Timeless Media has reissued it's massive set "M Squad: The Complete TV Series Special Edition" containing all 117 episodes of the gritty show that ran for three seasons on American TV commencing in 1957. The series was known for its hard-hitting and realistic look at crime in and around Chicago. Lee Marvin starred as Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense cop assigned to crack down on organized crime in the vicinity. Like "The Naked City", "East Side, West Side" and "The Untouchables", the show was credited for having intelligent, believable scripts and fine performances from the cast and guest stars. The program's success helped to pave the way for Lee Marvin to be a major presence on the big screen.
The initial Timeless Media release of this set was released in 2008 and contained a special bonus soundtrack CD (Count Basie and young John Williams were among the legends who performed on the score and title theme.) That disc has been dropped in favor of a bonus DVD that presents Lee Marvin in early TV appearances on "Wagon Train", "Checkmate", The Virginian" and "Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker", an obscure 1963 telecast. They are manna from Heaven for Lee Marvin fans (and who isn't?)
One minor gripe: the photo on the box cover is not Marvin in "M Squad": it's actually a well known publicity still from John Boorman's 1967 big screen crime classic "Point Blank". Also, the quality of the "M Squad" episodes varies quite a bit, as they were taken from the best elements available. Purists may be critical of the transfers but the bottom line is that this is a highly impressive boxed set that presents an American acting legend at his very best. Now all you'll need is 117 hours of free time to enjoy the entire experience.
Here is the official press release:
of the most memorable of the early television police dramas,M Squaddebuted in 1957 and ran for
three seasons on NBC. Lee Marvin, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of the South
Pacific, where he received the Purple Heart in the Battle of Saipan, stars as
Lt. Frank Ballinger, a no-nonsense Chicago plainclothes cop in the elite M
Squad Division. On November 4th, 2014, Timeless Media Group, a
division of Shout! Factory LCC, will releaseM
Squad: The Complete TV Series-Special Editionon DVD. All 117 episodes of the
television series as originally aired, as well as a brand new bonus disc
featuring Lee Marvin guest star appearances inWagon Train, Checkmate, The
Virginianand as the host ofLawbreaker)
Squad's (M-for Murder) task is to root out organized crime and corruption in
America's Second City. Marvin's portrayal of a tough undercover officer, whose
perseverance and potential for violence, but with utter cool, permeates each
gritty episode, gave Marvin name recognition with the public, and did much to
make him a star.
If you're pondering what to get your significant other for a holiday gift, look no further than "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series", which has been released in a boxed set by MPI Home Entertainment. For many, series star Jeremy Brett was- and remains- the definitive interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary detective. There have been countless actors who have provided wide-ranging performances as Holmes and most of them are commendable in their own way. However, Brett's debut as Holmes in this classic British TV series met with instant international acclaim even among the notoriously fussy Holmes scholars who never seem to be pleased with screen presentation of their literary hero.
The MPI set contains:
Every episode of the series (41 episodes on 12 DVDs)
Includes the five feature film-length adventures
Profusely illustrated collector's guide booklet with extensive essays by film historian Richard Valley
Interview with director John Madden and screenwriter Jeremy Paul
Interview with series co-star Edward Hardwicke
"Daytime Live" show with guest stars Brett and Hardwicke
Sherlock Holmes Museum short
Vintage Sherlock Holmes series promo
In all, a superb and irresistible release that will allow you many hours of matching wits with the world's greatest sleuth. What do you get for that special person for the holidays? The answer should be elementary.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER DVD SET FROM AMAZON AND TO VIEW PROMOTIONAL CLIPS FOR MANY EPISODES.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE SET FROM AMAZON ON BLU-RAY
have been entire books dedicated to the cinema of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven
and with good reason. Known for pushing the envelope of what is acceptable
onscreen in both sexuality and violence, his movies have been celebrated and
condemned - often by the same critic at different times! To one degree or another
I have enjoyed every Verhoeven film I've seen all the way back to the brilliant
Soldier of Orange (1977) but it was RoboCop (1987) that stomped across the
world and made it possible for the madman to make nearly anything he wanted. I
wonder what would have happened if this film - his first English language
effort- had not been a huge financial success. Would we have had a series of
progressively worse sequels with Rutger Hauer ravishing maidens and slaying
nobles for gold? Maybe in a better world.....
+ Blood (1985) takes place in Western Europe in 1501 and begins during an
attack on a small Italian city by a group of mercenaries employed by the city's
rightful ruler Arnolfini (Fernardo Hilbeck). These soldiers have been promised a
full day of consequence free looting if they succeed in retaking the city
but once the job is done Arnolfini soon reneges on this offer when he sees them
destroying the place. The commander of the troops, Hawkwood (Jack
Thompson), is heartsick over a nun that he mistakenly harmed during the attack
and Arnolfini promises to get medical attention for her if the commander will
use the cavalry to eject the mercenaries from the city without their loot. This
betrayal is not taken well, especially by Hawkwood's former lieutenant Martin
(Rutger Hauer). Soon after the group is run off, Martin is burying his
stillborn child when he unearths a wooden statue of Saint Martin of Tours. This
saint with a sword is seen by the mercenaries' cleric as a sign from God
to follow Martin as their new leader.
in the retaken city Arnolfini's son Steven (Tom Burlinson) has been betrothed
to Lady Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh). They meet for the first time when Steven greets
her caravan on the way to their wedding and love seems to blossom between the
two. But then the entourage is attacked and robbed by Martin's group. Arnolfini
is seriously injured during the raid while Agnes is carried away concealed
among her valuable dowry. That night Martin discovers Agnes and, although the other
men desire to gang rape her, Martin claims her for himself. He first rapes her
but then Agnes starts flirting with him, hoping to gain his protection. She
becomes his concubine after a fashion and is dragged along on the mercenaries'
travels. She easily convinces Martin that he is in love with her and works carefully
on the other members of the band to get them to accept her. She appears to have
completely given up on her former life and forgotten her betrothal.
enough the mercenaries come upon a castle where, unknown to them, the
inhabitants are infected with the Black Death. The group captures the
castle with the help of Agnes, who proves herself very resourceful in many ways.
But Steven is determined to reclaim his bride to be and turns to Hawkwood for
help. Hawkwood only wants to live a quiet life caring for the former nun he had
injured but Steven uses force and threats against the nun to coerce the old
soldier to help in his pursuit of Martin. Once they locate the mercenaries they
realize that they don't have sufficient force to take the castle and lay siege to
it. Inside the castle Martin asks Agnes where her true loyalties lie but she is
ambiguous hinting that she will be happy with whoever wins. Outside the castle,
the dreaded Plague spreads among Steven's forces and even infects Hawkwood. After
an impressive battle with an incredible siege engine built by the well-educated
Steven, the mercenaries capture Steven and shackle him in the castle's courtyard.
Here Agnes feigns hatred of her ex-groom and even has sex with Martin in front
lancing his boils, Hawkwood is able to cure himself of the plague but he cannot
continue the siege alone. Instead, he catapults pieces of an infected dog over
the castle walls and when one chunk lands near the chained Steven, he flings it
into the place's water well. Agnes sees this happen and Steven tells her that
she can decide whether or not to tell the mercenaries.
fears of the Black Death creeping into the castle, the band of mercenaries want
to leave the place but Martin persuades them to stay. Agnes does not warn them
about the well and watches as they drink infected water. However, when Martin begins to drink, she slaps the cup
from his hand. As several of the group start to show signs of the sickness,
they hurl Martin into the tainted well and, as she did after Steven's capture,
Agnes joins in the abuse of Martin. At this point Hawkwood and Arnolfini return
to the castle with an army and attack. Inside the castle, Steven and Martin cooperate
to save each other, but with a fresh siege underway there is no way to know who
will live and who will die.
looking for a sweet natured adventure film with noble knights and derring-do would
do well to back slowly away from this movie. Vicious, nasty, violent and cruel
are just a few of the words I would use to describe both the story and the
characters in this brutal medieval epic. All of the people in this story act in
selfish, ruthless ways at almost every turn and only seem driven by the most primitive
of emotions. Even the very few acts of kindness can be seen as self-serving in
a world where everyone is fighting just to survive. That's not to say the film
is not entertaining. Indeed, I would say Flesh + Blood is supreme fun for fans
of the harsher kinds of cinema. The film is one part exploitation, two parts
graphic violence, one part costume drama and one part historical romance - as
long as you don't need the romance to be the chaste kind!
enthusiasts (Godzilla fans in particular) can join Cinema Retro’s Rod Barnett
along with Troy Guinn as they start a new series of podcasts entitled “Controversial
Kaiju”. The first episode focuses on “All Monsters Attack” (1969) (aka “Godzilla’s Revenge”). The broadcast can
be downloaded through this link.
Shout! Factory will re-issue the entire series of "Secret Agent" (aka "Danger Man") starring Patrick McGoohan as a 17 DVD set. This edition will feature new extra features. See press release below:
“Every government has its secret service branch. America,CIA; France,Deuxième Bureau; England,MI5.NATOalso
has its own. A messy job? Well that's when they usually call on me or someone
like me. Oh yes, my name is Drake, John Drake.” So begins the dramatic 1960s
British spy seriesSecret
Agent. On December 9th, 2014 bring home the adventures of John
Drake with the complete series set of this classic spy show. The 17-DVD box set
also contains a number of bonus features, including audio commentaries and a
brand new interview with Catherine McGoohan.
McGoohan (The Prisoner) stars as John Drake inSecret Agent, the popular
television series from the Golden Age of Spy Thrillers, the 1960s. Travelling
the world to capture international criminals, John Drake rarely solved problems
with a gun, preferring to use charm and wit over violence to bring in the bad
There is a frightening scene in “Prince of The Night” when
Klaus Kinski chases a woman through the streets of Venice. She runs into
an empty building, but like a jungle cat bringing down an impala, Kinski catches
her and smashes her to the stone floor. Actresses Barbara De Rossi and Elvire Audray
complained that Kinski was too rough on them during the making of this 1988
Italian production, but when Kinski is hired to play Nosferatu, a creature
“belched forth by the Devil,” one can’t expect the off-screen neck nibbles of
Bela Lugosi. As he did throughout his hellacious career, Kinski played the role
with an utter lack of restraint. De Rossi and Audray were lucky he
didn’t actually tear open their jugulars.
It turns out that Kinski’s untamed acting had a payoff.
As we can see in the recently released DVD from One 7 Movies, Kinski outshines
the rest of the cast, including such gallant journeymen as Christopher Plummer
and Donald Pleasence. If a few
actresses got scuffed up along the way, so be it.
The cast should have known what to expect when, on his
first day of shooting, Kinski and director Mario Caiano got into a violent
argument. Part of the beef was that Kinski was reprising his character
from Werner Herzog’s 1979 picture “Nosferatu the Vampyre” and was supposed to
wear the same bald head, and corpse-white makeup. However, the petulant
Kinski arrived on the set wearing long hair and asserting that he had no intention
of enduring another painful make-up sessions. This is why Nosferatu of
the 1988 film looks like Aguirre and nothing like the original character
from the Herzog movie (or for that matter, the F.W. Murnau silent
film). Kinski’s only nod to tradition was that he wore the same rodent teeth
he’d worn for Herzog.
Waylaid by Kinski’s bellicose attitude, Caiano left the
production after being paid his full salary. Caiano’s departure wasn’t a
surprise, since the film had already been through several personnel changes.
Producer Augusto Caminito had already hired and fired directors Maurizio Lucidi
and Pasquale Squitieri before hiring Caiano. When Kinski forced Caiano off the
set, Caminito decided to direct the film himself. Since Caminito had little directing
experience, he enlisted the help of Luigi Cozzi, a veteran of many Italian
horror films (as well as the Lou Ferrigno “Hercules” of 1983). Not
surprisingly, even Kinski is alleged to have directed a few scenes.
Somehow, this debacle of a production yielded a highly
watchable movie (originally titled “Vampire In Venice”). I imagine some
of the credit must go to cinematographer Tonino Nardi, who lovingly feeds us
one eye-popping scene after another. It’s as if Nardi knew, while
chaos swirled all around him, that all one needed to make this vampire movie
was Kinski, a few beautiful women, and the gorgeous scenery of Venice.
One can almost turn the sound off, ignore the rickety plot, and simply
enjoy the movie for its visual delights.
The movie is supposed to take place in 1780s
Venice, a time of plagues and death. The
streets are a weird mix of the morbid and the frivolous. You’re as likely to
step over a corpse as to be pestered by a dancing harlequin. Yet, one of my
favorite moments is when an extra steering a gondola is not in period costume,
but is instead wearing a denim jacket and tight fitting jeans, as if a member
of The Doobie Brothers had been somehow teleported into the 18th century.
Caminito was probably so sick of reshoots that he hoped no one would notice the
At the time of its release in 1962 critics treated director J. Lee Thompson's "Taras Bulba" as just another action epic. Well, back in those days, every week seemed to see the release of a worthwhile action epic. However, retro movie fans have long held this film in a place of honor. It has an intelligent script, fine performances and sequences that are truly magnificent in their scope- all set to the legendary Franz Waxman's superb, Oscar-nominated score. The film is unusual on many levels beginning with the period of history it covers: the battles between the Cossacks and Poles for control of the Ukraine Steppes in the early 16th century. When the film opens, the Cossacks are fighting with the Poles to thwart an invading Turkish army. However, the Poles double-cross their allies after victory has been achieved, slaughtering many of the Cossacks, whom they fear will be a future threat. The mantle of Cossack leadership falls to the courageous warrior Taras Bulba, who vows revenge against Poland no matter how long it takes. The Cossacks spend many years rebuilding their strength. During this time, Bulba fathers two sons: Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez), both of whom do instill him with pride for adapting the rough-and-tumble ways of the Cossack warriors. When tensions ease with the Polish government, Taras instructs his sons to attend university in Kiev, ostensibly to get an education. In reality, he wants them to study Polish customs and habits, all the better to serve in the forthcoming war against them that he is planning. While in Kiev, the boys suffer the indignities of ridicule, beatings and hazings. (There is an amusing, if unintended,homo erotic aspect to some of these scenes, with sweaty, shirtless men whipping each other.) Andrei finds it's all worthwhile when he catches a glimpse of Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann), a beautiful young Polish girl who is from an influential family. Against all odds, he manages to catch her eye and ingratiate himself to her. The would-be lovers find ways to secretly meet to carry out their forbidden romance. (The notion of a Polish noblewoman carrying on a love affair with a crude Cossack warrior may seem far-fetched, but if the Cossack is Tony Curtis, I guess anything is possible.) When Andrei's interest in Natalia is discovered by her brother, a sword fight ensues in which Ostap mortally wounds the Polish army officer. The brothers escape back to the Steppes and the arms of their mother and father but Andrei still pines away for his lost love. Taras rallies the various Cossack tribes to join him in an assault on a city held by Poles. After a vicious battle, he bottles up his enemies inside the walls of the town and begins to starve them out. However, Andrei learns that Natalia is within the city and when plague breaks out, he makes an ill-fated decision to attempt to rescue her. This leads to the film's dramatic and very emotional climactic seen between Taras and Andrei.
"Taras Bulba" has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The transfer is outstanding and is so clear that some of the film's technical weaknesses appear more prominent than they probably did on the big screen. The scenes within Kiev are clearly achieved through the use of studio sets and matte paintings. Some scenes have a noticeable graininess to them and in certain cavalry charges, you might observe horsemen moving at sped up motion in the manner of the Keystone Cops. Nevertheless, this is an epic film indeed when it comes to the action sequences. One scene in particular is literally thrilling: the joining of the Cossack warriors on the open plain, all galloping at high speed to Franz Waxman's addictive musical score. The performances are also first-rate with Brynner giving a larger-than-life interpretation of Bulba in manner that no other actor of this era could achieve. Tony Curtis once again overcomes a New York accent (as he did in "The Vikings") and somehow appears completely credible. (An interesting footnote: Bulba's right hand man Shilo is played by Brynner's "Magnificent Seven" co-star Brad Dexter.) Christine Kaufmann was only 16 years old at the time of filming and the on-screen love affair with Tony Curtis replicated itself in real life: they began dating on the set and ended up getting married, though they divorced in 1968.
The Blu-ray disc includes an original trailer that absurdly proclaims, in the typical hyperbole of the day, that the film should be added to the list of "Wonders of the World"! Not quite. But say this for "Taras Bulba": it represents the kind of first rate action adventure epic of which it is often said "They sure as hell don't make 'em like that anymore."
THIS SET SHIPS ON NOVEMBER 11! REMEMBER, THE BLU-RAY SET IS A LIMITED EDITION. ORDER NOW!
"Batman", the classic 1960s TV series, is finally coming to home video after years of legal complications. Warner Home Video will release on Blu-ray and DVD on November 11.
The set will contain all 120 remastered episodes of the the three seasons the show ran and will contain a Batcave full of extras. Among them: a Hotwheels replica of the Batmobile, a letter from Adam West and photos derived from his personal scrapbook and replicas of vintage trading cards.
For more, including a promotional preview, click here.
Twilight Time has released a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray of John Wayne's late-career detective flick "Brannigan". The 1975 film takes Wayne out of the saddle and deposits him squarely in central London ("The Duke's in London. God Save the Queen!" read the tag line on the film poster.). The "fish-out--of-water" crime thriller concept began with Don Siegel's outstanding "Coogan's Bluff" (1968), which inspired Dennis Weaver's hit rip-off TV series "McCloud". Still, the premise works well with Wayne's tough Chicago Irish cop Jim Brannigan sent to London to extradite a top crime figure, much as Clint Eastwood's Coogan was shipped to New York to bring a criminal back to Arizona. Wayne had gone the detective route the year before in "McQ". He had originally been offered the role of Dirty Harry but correctly assumed his fans would not stand for him playing such an anti-Establishment character. Still, the phenomenal success of that movie made him realize that the Western genre was in decline and that he'd better switch gears occasionally to keep his loyal fans on board. Wayne was said to loathe "McQ". It was a downbeat, cynical look at corruption in the police force. Ironically, for many of his fans, it is regarded as one of the best films from the latter part of his career. Teaming Wayne with an ace director, John Sturges, the film provided the Duke with an intelligent script, surprising plot turns and a less-than-larger-than-life character to portray. The movie did fairly well despite Wayne's reservations so perhaps that is why he immediately returned to the crime film genre with "Brannigan". In reality, Wayne had planned to do a detective film with this title for at least a decade. A 1964 trade industry story announced he would begin filming it in "the near East". The project never happened. When it was dusted off a decade later, it was temporarily titled "Joe Battle" before mercifully assuming its original title.
Like "McQ", "Brannigan" is a crime thriller but the two films are far apart in terms of style. "Brannigan" is directed by the underrated Douglas Hickox ("Theatre of Blood", "Zulu Dawn") with emphasis on humor, as we see Wayne immediately learn that the crime kingpin he is to escort home (John Vernon) has been allowed to escape. His counterpart is Scotland Yard Inspector Swan, played by Richard Attenborough. This "Odd Couple"-like teaming of two radically different acting styles is one of the true delights of the film. Both Wayne and Attenborough are clearly enjoying each other's company and their good natured "one-upmanship" provides plenty of genuine laughs. As the two detectives relentlessly track down their man, there are plenty of memorable action highlights including a well-staged car chase that includes a jump over the rising Tower Bridge. There's also a major, well-staged pub brawl that's right out of the John Ford playbook. Director Hickox makes the most of London's fabulous sites, which adds immeasurably to the film's pleasures. (This is only one of two movies to be shot in London's ultra-exclusive private Garrick Club and Hickox makes the most of it, showing off the elegant facility for a sequence in which Brannigan and Swan debate police tactics over lunch.) There is also a spirited, lively performance by Judy Geeson as a young Scotland Yard detective who enjoys a playful but platonic relationship with Brannigan. The supporting cast is a strong one with John Vernon and Mel Ferrer providing the villainy. Ralph Meeker gets relatively prominent billing but his on-screen appearance lasts little more than a minute, indicating some of his footage may have been left on the cutting room floor. The film climaxes with an assassin trying to gun down Brannigan from a speeding car at the old Beckton Gasworks, a ghastly-looking industrial facility that was memorably used for the pre-credits sequence of the 1981 James Bond film "For Your Eyes Only". All of this is set to a zippy jazz score by Dominic Frontiere that is off-beat for a film in this genre. "Brannigan" is not a late-career Wayne classic in the way that "The Cowboys" and "The Shootist" can be regarded. But it is a hell of a lot of fun and provides Wayne with a role that fit him like a glove. Nearing seventy years old, he could still at this point carry off the action sequences credibly.
Original Italian poster
Thankfully, Twilight Time has put some of its considerable artistic resources into this Blu-ray edition, which typically features a superb transfer. The bonus extras include an audio commentary between Judy Geeson and Twilight Time's Nick Redman that is breezy, fun and informative. (Geeson clearly adored Wayne, even though she overheard him refer to her as "an old bag of bones" after she auditioned for her role!) Geeson also provides some silent on set footage taken during the filming of the climax at Beckton Gasworks, which will delight Wayne purists who are anxious to see any previously unreleased footage of the Hollywood icon. There is also an original trailer that amusingly plays up Wayne being out of place in London. Julie Kirgo provides excellent analysis in the accompanying collector's booklet. Highly recommended (even for liberals!).
Probably no genre illustrates the rapid advance of cinematic screen freedoms than the biker movie. The genre debuted in 1953 with Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". The film, which chronicled the virtual takeover of a small California town by a wild motorcycle gang, was considered extremely controversial at the time. The biker film remained largely dormant until the release of Roger Corman's "The Wild Angels" in 1966, which became a surprising boxoffice and media sensation. Only a year or two before, teenage audiences were being fed a steady diet of white bread rock 'n roll films that bore little resemblance to real life. Suddenly, the biker film blatantly presented raging hormones, gang wars, drug use and group sex without apology. Young people patronized these films in droves. With social constraints falling by the minute, the biker films- cheaply made as they were- spoke to the emerging generation that would be defined by hippies, drop-outs and protesters. Suddenly, Elvis movies seemed like entertainment for their parents and grandparents. With the success of "The Wild Angels", imitators galore sprang onto drive-in movie screens across America. The biker films were like any other genre in that some of the entries were poorly done efforts designed to reap a few fast bucks at the box-office, while others had a certain crude efficiency about them. Such a film was "The Glory Stompers", one of the better entries in the biker movie genre. Made in 1967, the film was released by (surprise!) American International, which reaped king's ransoms by producing low-budget exploitation movies. Make no mistake, "The Glory Stompers" is indeed an exploitation movie with little redeeming value beyond it's interesting cast. Dennis Hopper, in full psycho mode, top-lines as Chino, the leader of a brutal biker gang known as The Black Souls. After being dissed by members of the rival Glory Stompers gang, Chino and his posse track down a Glory Stomper, Darryl (Jody McCrea) who is with his gorgeous blonde girlfriend Chris (Chris Noel). Chris is badgering Darryl to leave the biker lifestyle and do something meaningful with his life. They are interrupted by the arrival of the Black Souls, who beat Darryl mercilessly. Believing him to be dead, Chino orders the gang to kidnap Chris to prevent her from filing murder charges against them. Chino advises the group that they will transport her by bike several hundred miles into Mexico, where he has arranged to sell her into white slavery. Unbeknownst to them, however, Darryl recovers from his wounds and immediately sets out to rescue Chris. Along the way he meets a former fellow Glory Stomper, Smiley (former Tarzan star Jock Mahoney), who agrees to join the rescue effort. The eventually pick up one other ally and his girlfriend and head into Mexico in hot pursuit of the Black Souls.
The film features a good deal of padding with extended shots of the bikers cruising down highways or navigating over sandy desert roads. There's also a good deal of footage devoted to sexploitaiton, with topless biker women riding rampant through drug-fueled orgies and the requisite cat right between jealous biker "mamas". This was pretty shocking stuff back in the day and gives the movie a relatively contemporary feel (even though today's Hell's Angels are primarily known for organizing charity fund raisers.) The cast is rather interesting and it's apparent that Hopper's presence in films like this clearly gave him street cred when he decided to make "Easy Rider". Chris Noel is quite stunning as the kidnap victim who must use psychology to avoid frequent attempts by her captors to rape her. She's also a good actress who brings a degree of dignity to the otherwise sordid on-goings. Jock Mahoney is the grizzled biker veteran who puts loyalty above his personal safety and it's refreshing to see him wearing attire that goes beyond a loin cloth. Jody McRae, son of Joel McRae, is a bland but efficient hero. The supporting cast includes ubiquitous screen villain Robert Tessier and future music industry phenomenon Casey Kassem (!), who co-produced the movie. The direction by Anthony M. Lanza is uninspired but efficient and the cinematography by Mario Tosi (billed here as Mario Tossi) is surprisingly impressive, which explains why he became a top name in "A"-grade studio productions. The rock music tracks, produced by Mike Curb, are awful. Curb was a Boy Wonder at the time, producing memorable music scores for American International films such as "The Wild Angels" and "Wild in the Streets". Here, he's clearly slacking. Curb composed the score with Davie Allan but the duo insert jaunty, upbeat tunes during moments that call for suspense-laden tracks. Nevertheless, the film remains consistently entertaining and stands as one of the better entries in this genre.
MGM has released "The Glory Stompers" as a burn-to-order DVD. Despite some initial artifacts present in the opening sequence, the print is crisp and clean. There are no bonus extras.
The 8mm stag movie "loops" that defined the pornography industry until the advent of home video were generally considered to be the Rodney Dangerfields of the cinematic medium in that they didn't get no respect. Of late, however, a number of niche DVD labels have turned to exploiting this sexploitation. The latest is Cult Epics which has released "Vintage Erotica anno 1970", a somewhat unusual collection of 8mm porn shorts that that were defined by the fact that they had longer running times than the loops shown in "private viewing booths" in porn palaces located in red light districts in major cities around the world. The films included on this DVD have some degree of production values and make at least a feeble attempt to present a narrative. These short films have running times between 15 and 30 minutes. All were titles and scripted and some had recorded sound while others were shot as silent movies with a musical soundtrack added later. The shorts presented here are all from Europe and were filmed in the early 1970s. The initial offering features a couple of dozen hippies converging on an isolated wilderness area. They are carrying signs indicating that they are engaging in a "Love-in". They don't waste any time, either, getting down to having an orgy in between strumming folk music on guitars. This was a silent film and a perky, upbeat light rock score has been added. Other segments presented vary from serious attempts to present erotic situations to the age-old tradition of including slapstick comedy in the various scenarios.
Cult Epics has presented these films via a new transfer but there is still varying color quality, blotches and other imperfections. Somehow such deficiencies only add to the enjoyment of watching such fare. As lighthearted as some of the films are, keep in mind these are hardcore productions that leave nothing to the imagination. The clothing may be from the garish 1970s but there are certain consistencies with today's erotic movies, given the fact that no matter how imaginative the participants are, there is still only a finite number of acts that can be performed by men and women (and, given the genre, women and women.) There is a certain innocence to this type of erotica, however. Unlike much of today's porn, which is often defined by acts of violence or outright perversions, these films recall a more -shall we say "wholesome"?- era for the genre. The participants are all happy-go-lucky, the sex is innocent and guilt-free and the scenarios recall an era in which Jerry Lewis-like comedy could actually be combined into hardcore films. Quite obviously, such films are not everyone's cup of tea. However, if you have fond memories of sneaking a peak at such "forbidden fare" when you were young, the Cult Epics release merits "must see" viewing status.
As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my heart for "B" spy movies of the 1960s. But you'd have to have a soft spot in your head to find much value in "Salt & Pepper", a 1968 Bond spoof with former Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford slumming for a quick paycheck and a good time in London. The film was improbably directed by Richard Donner, who displays none of the skills that would make him a world-class action movie director in the next decade. However, Donner is given some pretty skimpy material to work with. The hobbled-together screenplay finds Salt and Pepper as local legends in London's Soho district, then the epicenter of the mod movement. It's a measure of the script's level of wit that Salt is played by Davis and Pepper is played by Lawford (get it?). The duo operate Soho's hippest and most exclusive nightclub. Pepper represents old world elegance, strolling his domain in a tuxedo while Salt appeals to the "mods" by dressing in some eye-popping outfits that even Liberace would have considered to be over-the-top. The two men are happily ensconed in their world of go-go girls, chain smoking and sex with willing younger women when they become embroiled in an espionage plot that involves the hijacking of a Royal Navy nuclear submarine as part of a plan to bring about a coup in the British government. Salt & Pepper try to alert the authorities but are disbelieved. They are also framed for a series of murders and are being constantly harassed by a local police inspector (Michael Bates), a relentless grouch who, in another sign of the screenwriter's level of wit, is named Inspector Crabbe. The film consists of a series of endless chases including a bizarre central action sequence in which Salt & Pepper somehow employ their own gadget-laden spy car, albeit one that doesn't function very effectively. Even in the midst of an absurd comedy such as this, there has to be some degree of logic. It's never explained why two nightclub owners would be in possession of a super spy car. There are endless scenes of Salt & Pepper being locked in various rooms and using improbable means to escape. Davis is a ball of energy and even gets to sign a bad song in a disco sequence that at least features the redeeming quality of go-go girls in mini-skirts.
Davis and Lawford are fun to watch together and there is an occasional modestly amusing joke or set piece. However, the humor largely consists of Davis vamping his idol Jerry Lewis and the sequences with Michael Bates as the police inspector feature silent-era Keystone Cops gags that are not only cringe-inducing but were about as relevant in the late 1960s as Fatty Arbuckle. The only distinction that sets the film apart from the Eurotrash spy movies of the day is the use of some exotic locations in the British countryside. Beyond that, however, the movie suffers from awful rear-screen projection and sets that look like a high school production of a Bond epic. Nevertheless, "Salt & Pepper" did find an audience and was sufficiently successful to merit a sequel, "One More Time" which was directed by -wait for it!- Jerry Lewis.
Some years ago I hosted a black tie dinner in honor of Sir Roger Moore at New York's famed club The Players. While interviewing him on stage, I asked him what he thought his best film performances were. Moore thought pensively for a moment or two and said, "None of them!" With tongue finally out of cheek, Moore explained that, with the exception of the little-seen 1970 cult movie The Man Who Haunted Himself- he had found success by essentially playing the same character. The names would change, so would the era, but the mannerisms that his fans warmed to were always firmly in place. Moore clearly feels its best to stick to a winning formula rather than have a bold departure from his usual traits backfire, a la John Wayne as Genghis Khan in "The Conqueror". It's hard to be overly critical of an actor with such an admirable tendency toward self-deprecating humor. Moore has become Britain's version of Jimmy Stewart- an avuncular, national treasure who seemingly has no enemies in high places. Nevertheless, Moore would be the first to admit to appearing in any number of cinematic misfires. Although wildly successful on television, Moore's big screen career has a checkered history. His Bond films were predictable blockbusters and "The Wild Geese" and "The Sea Wolves" did very well internationally, even though they tanked in the USA. His "Cannonball Run" may have been awful but the all star cast propelled it to the top of the boxoffice charts. Beyond that, however, even some of the better films he appeared in such as "Gold", "Shout at the Devil" and "ffolkes" (aka "North Sea Hijack") never found the audience they deserved.
One of Moore's more ambitious and curious ventures, "Sherlock Holmes in New York", has been released by Fox as a burn-to-order DVD. The 1976 made for television project was telecast with great fanfare on NBC. (Moore made the movie between his second and third Bond flicks, "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "The Spy Who Loved Me".) He breaks no new ground in his interpretation of the legendary detective, but then again he slips comfortably into the role, bringing the same traits that characterized his performance as Bond and The Saint. To his credit, he never camps it up or goes for an over-the-top laugh (if only he had shown such restraint in the more embarrassing moments of his Bond films.) The movie, directed by the respected Boris Sagal, presents Holmes and Watson (Patrick Macnee) being summoned to New York when they receive word that Irene Adler (Charlotte Rampling) may be in some mortal danger. Adler, as any Holmes buff knows, is the only one who ever got under Holmes's skin. By actually outwitting him in a case, she earned his respect and caused the legendary detective to deal with some inconvenient romantic notions. It's best not to reveal too much about a Holmes story so that the viewer can experience a few surprises along the way. The film does set up the main story line in the opening sequence in which Holmes (wearing an embarrassingly obvious disguise) confronts his arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (John Huston) in his London lair. The two men exchange witticisms and insults and Moriarty vows vengeance for Holmes spoiling his latest criminal scheme. Moriarty promises that he will put Holmes in a situation in which he will be forced to abstain from helping authorities thwart one of his most ambitious crimes, thereby tarnishing the great detective's reputation forever.
If the plot is a bit tame and flabby, the cast is a great deal of fun to watch. Patrick Macnee plays Watson somewhat in the vein of Nigel Bruce but doesn't make him overtly useless- and, in fact, he actually saves Holmes life at one point. (Macnee and Moore would reunite in 1981 for the feature film "The Sea Wolves" and in 1985 for Moore's final 007 flick "A View to a Kill".) Huston excels as Moriarty but his scenes are far too limited and only book end the main story. The film was done rather on the cheap and all but one sequence was filmed in a studio, rather surprising considering the luster of the cast members involved. The script does have one rather surprising development about Holmes' personal life revealed as the shock ending...but to say more would be to say too much.
"Sherlock Holmes in New York" isn't one of the top entries in the Holmes canon, but any time you can see Roger Moore, Patrick Macnee and John Huston sharing scenes, it's a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.
Impulse Pictures has improbably resurrected the bottom of the barrel porn vignettes from the 1960s and 1970s- commonly known as "peep show" films- into DVD releases that actually have some social significance. First, some background. In the uptight era of the 1950s through early 1960s, even a hint of sex on screen usually resulted in censorship or arrest and prosecution. The main stream, big studios- in an attempt to prevent the establishment of an office of government censorship- took draconian measures to ensure they censored themselves by adhering to codes of ethics that watered down adult films every bit as much as any government entity was likely to do. Where would sexually frustrated men seek cinematic satisfaction? About the only venue available were 8mm stag films, which were primarily shown in private homes behind closed doors. Generally these were forbidden fruit shown at bachelor parties or perhaps added some spice to the marital bed if a man had a truly progressive wife. Men who lived in or near big cities could purchase reels of these films in "red light districts". If you lived in small town America, you were generally out of luck. When New York's 42nd Street made a sharp turn towards vice in the 1960s, porn parlor flourished along the notorious stretch. You could not only purchase reels of silent stag films for home viewing, but the era of the "peep show" also came about. A horny guy could enter a telephone booth-sized private cubicle and insert some coins into a machine and- Presto!- a dirty movie would start playing right before his very eyes. Frustratingly, the movie would end after a few minutes, thus ensuring the viewer would continue to insert more coins to see the climax (pardon the pun.) The films ran anywhere from five to ten minutes. Accordingly, story lines and production values were virtually non-existent because the action had to start almost immediately. From such modest cinematic achievements, some faces became well-known to patrons. John Holmes (aka "Long Johnny Wadd"), whose substantial physical asset became his trademark, was a ubiquitous presence in these films and some of the more prolific "actresses" also got their starts in these modest productions. As censorship laws slackened in the wake of the sexual revolution, production values increased within the porn industry and relatively high budget feature films played sometimes for months at a time in actual theaters. Among the more notorious: "Deep Throat", "The Devil in Miss Jones" and "Behind the Green Door", each of which became a pop culture sensation. Still, there was-and still is- a place for peep show fare among the remaining grindhouses in red light districts around the world.
Impulse Pictures has released a number of volumes consisting of numerous silent peep show flicks. Amusingly, they have added the sound of a whirring projector to the soundtrack. They have also shown the archival footage in its raw, primitive state, complete with original spice marks and blotches in order to recreate the experience of how these films were initially seen. What adds some "social significance" to these releases is the accompanying booklet with incisive essays by Robin Bougie, a self-professed scholar of sleeze movies. He runs a web site at www.cinemasewer.com and has an extensive knowledge of the genre. In Vol. #1 of the "Peep Show Collection", Bougie astutely points out that it took until the release of Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker" in 1965 before American adult audiences could even be shown a glimpse of naked breasts in a mainstream studio release. Bougie points out that, although these 8mm loops are as bare-bones as one can imagine, there was a sense of fun that is lacking from today's coarser porn flicks. He also provides valuable insights into identifying future porn stars in these loops, including Marc Stevens, Annie Sprinkle and Lisa DeLeeuw. (John Holmes doesn't require any identification beyond his trademark appendage.) Most of the actresses in the films, however, were simply free-spirited young women who involved in the counter-culture. Many thought that by appearing in such films, they were thumbing their nose at the Establishment. Others were probably less politically inclined and did the films simply to make a few quick dollars. Still others just liked the notion of free, liberated sex after coming out of a period of social repression. In any event, it may not be pleasing to these ladies, many of whom are now grandmothers today, that these obscure, long-forgotten stag films are now being dressed up and issued on DVD.
Bougie also delves back into the origins of the peep show films, tracing them to one Lasse Braun, who used an inheritance to finance the first of these films for European audiences. They were then imported to America by a man named Reuben Sturman, who distributed them to 60,000 porn shops. Thus, the era of the peep show was born.
This collection obviously isn't for everyone. The films are definitely hardcore and leave nothing to the imagination. But if it's possible for someone to get sentimental about such fare, this collection will fit the bill. Perhaps the value of the adult entertainment industry of this era is best summed up by a quote from Norman Mailer that Bougie cites in his essay: "There was something exciting about pornography. It lived in some mid-world between crime and art. And it was adventurous."
You have to be a bit courageous to name a documentary
“Boredom,” knowing it will eventually land in the hands of a snarky reviewer
looking for an easy joke. Albert Nerenberg, the director behind other
documentaries looking at everyday phenomena (“Laughology,” “Stupidity”) wanted
to explore this common life experience: what boredom is, how it happens, and
what effects it has on people.
In doing so, Nerenberg uses a variety of filmmaking
styles, from research presented by experts, to B-roll and stock footage, to
dramatizations and “Daily Show” style interviews meant as much to amuse as
Nerenberg warns us early on that there isn’t much
research on the actual topic of boredom. It’s apparently a subject that sparks
more curiosity and questions than it does answers.The documentary does pull
together a variety of experts, however, from psychologists and neurologists to
scholars on topics like education and technology. The film is for the most part
entertaining, though it does miss the mark a little by giving equal weight to
these experts and more anecdotal evidence on the effects of boredom, provided
by interview subjects. These include adrenaline junkies, drug addicts and a
professional public relations man who runs The Boredom Institute, an institute
in name only of which he is the only member, created mostly to generate buzz.
The DVD, released by Entertainment One, moves along nicely
at a brisk 61 minutes. (A clever bonus feature includes a version of the film sped up
10%, clocking it in at a more manageable 48 minutes.) The DVD also has a
three-minute featurette on the stages of boredom and a four-minute feature on a
proposed artificial mountain in Holland to add interest to the country’s
otherwise flat landscape.
While there is some interesting information to be found
in the film, it works more as infotainment than profound research. Think of it
as more of today’s version of a Discovery Channel documentary than the
scholarly programs of the 1990s.
In short, there are plenty of less interesting ways you
could spend an hour than watching this film- and at least “Bordom” is never
Birkin, Anita Pallenberg, a character named “Penny Lane,” sitar music by George
Harrison, Mod set design, Carnaby Street fashions, trippy psychedelic colors --
if you need a late-‘60s cultural fix and you’re short a time machine, Joe
Massot’s “Wonderwall” (1968) may be your next best remedy.
scientist Oscar Collins (Jack MacGowran) lives a drab existence. At work, he peers through a microscope at
wriggling microbes. At home in his
solitary apartment, he reads Scientific American amid piles of bundled back
issues. One evening, he accidentally
knocks a hole in the wall that allows him to peer into the adjoining apartment,
occupied by a pretty aspiring model named Penny Lane (Birkin). Oscar’s flat looks like a disheveled Hobbit
hole. Penny’s is a swirl of vivid Pop
Art colors. Becoming infatuated and then
obsessed, Oscar devises additional ways to spy on his neighbor. When Penny holds a party, Oscar dresses up in
a tuxedo but remains in his apartment, watching through the peep hole. He imagines a series of chaste romantic
encounters with Penny, and a series of comic duels with Penny’s boyfriend (Iain
Quarrier) involving increasingly absurd phallic objects.
at Cannes but never released theatrically in the U.S., “Wonderwall” on the
surface seems like a whimsical variation on Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1966)
and “What?” (1972) -- no coincidence,
since it was based on a story by Gérard Brach, Polanski’s friend and longtime
collaborator. MacGowran’s cartoonish
demeanor, art director Assheton Gorton’s eye-popping color palette, the silly
visuals in Oscar’s daydreams, and George Harrison’s eclectic score reinforce the
first impression that this is a comedy, not a downer like Polanski’s
psychodramas. But the movie is more
elusive than that. It definitely avoids
the predictable formula of today’s romantic comedies, in which Oscar would be
played by Matthew McConaughey or Ben Stiller, the voyeurism would be toned down,
and Oscar and Penny would eventually get together -- sort of the same way Kaley
Cuoco’s Penny and her nerdy scientist neighbor Leonard got together on TV’s
“The Big Bang Theory.” Massot, Brach,
and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante (“Vanishing Point”) devise an ending
that may be happy, sad, or cosmically transcendent, depending on how you
Very much reminiscent of other Mod-era films like “Blow-Up,”
“2001,” “If . . .,” and “Candy,” “Wonderwall” is given a welcome rescue from
obscurity by Fabulous Films and Shout Factory. The Blu-ray Collector’s Edition includes the original theatrical version
restored in hi-def by Pinewood Studios, a director’s cut assembled by Massot in
the late 1990s, and numerous extras. A
glossy, colorful souvenir booklet highlights Massot’s reflections about the
making of the film, written in 2000, two years before his death, with fond and
sometimes poignant memories of hanging with the Beatles, Polanski, Sharon Tate,
Eric Clapton, and others in the Swinging ‘60s. The Fabulous Films/Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray can be ordered from Amazon by CLICKING HERE.
general consensus among fans of “Adult Films” (a.k.a. pornography movies) is
that the genre floundered and died because of the advance of technology. The
first blow was the mass adoption of VCRs in the 1980s. This was initially seen
as a major boon to the smut industry because
video cassettes allowed porn into the home where it could be watched in
secrecy. But the ravenous appetite of the back room video shops for product made
cheap, fast productions more enticing for producers, thus bringing the quality
down further and further with each passing year. The second and most deadly hit
was the creation of the internet, which made porn available at the click of a
button and made the consumer contemptuous of paying for the product at all. Now
that it is possible to see almost any combination of human bodies in almost any
form of sexual activity that you can imagine instantaneously what is to become
of the long form film version of pornography? Who will preserve old school
narrative adult movies from the old days of porno? Vinegar Syndrome will! The
DVD label seems intent on bringing us every possible opportunity to wallow in
sleaze from decades past and taste is no barrier.
Blue (1978) is one of those films that hails from that magic time before the
death of narrative porn –from before the time when the very idea of having to
follow a story to see people copulate onscreen caused puzzlement in a viewer.
Yes, this film is from the ‘Golden Age’ of pornography when smut peddlers saw
porn as just another form of profitable storytelling. As crazy as it may seem
from the 21st century perspective, there was a time when porn was seen as just
another form of motion picture art and the genre was the cutting edge of
boundary pushing. "Let's make the old folks uncomfortable - let's make a
sex film!" But, of course, that
wasn't the only impetus behind making porn. In those days there were people
that wanted to make solid, credible movies that just happened to have several
scenes of sex scattered about the running time. During this short lived time
there were some well produced pornographic movies that had high budgets and
pretty good scripts but, as you might expect, the vast majority were lower down
on the quality scale. Indeed, once the Fast Forward button became a reality,
any pretensions about crafting ‘artful films’ for the porn market became a
silly notion. People were watching these movies for one reason only- titillation
- and if the movie skimped on that front it was reviled, or worse,
do you review a film that opens on a shot of a woman orally pleasuring a man in
an ape suit? Like this- Jungle Blue tells us the tale of Jane (Kathie Kori) who
is in search of her missing father in the jungles of Peru. She arrives in that
country with a group of friends including Silvia (Nina Fause) who has convinced
Jane (by lesbian seduction we learn in one of many flashbacks) to let her and
Hank (Hank Lardner) join her on the trip. These two are posing as botanists
searching for healing herbs in the jungle plant life but are actually in search
of a hidden treasure of precious jewels that they believe are guarded by tribe
Jane's father was studying. Once in the jungle they meet loin-clothed white man
Evor (Bigg John) who is called by native the lord of the jungle. Looking very
Tarzan-like, Evor is a gentleman in every way and is the center of much
spirited attention from both Jane and Sylvia. Inevitably, both get to “know”
him- if you know what I mean.
a truly bizarre turn, Evor explains that he was created in the jungle like Adam,
with no Earthly parents and a natural innocence that not even sex with multiple
women in a single day can ruin. This needless fantasy element adds a touch of
extra silliness to the proceedings that pays off later in the film when we see
that even a gut full of bullets can't seem to kill the studly Jungle King. Of
course we learn that Jane's father has died and there is some grief-stricken
sexual activity to help keep our interests from flagging. All goes well until
the group locates that (not so) hidden tribe when Silvia and Hank put their
secret plan to poison everyone with candy into effect. The evil twosome hope to
cash in and make off to Brazil with the jewels to live a life of hedonistic
fun. As you might expect, things don't go as planned.
this film is a good example of the majority of narrative porn movies of the
1970s then I can see why the genre died. This movie is a damned mess from
beginning to end with the only draw being the actual sex scenes. Everything is
poorly done. The actors are mostly clueless, the script is a third-grader's
idea of a dirty Tarzan story and the stupid 'steal the jewels' plot is dropped
in so randomly halfway through the movie that it seems like a later addition to
the whole thing. Adding to this general slapdash feel is the fact that one sex
scene is repeated a couple of times and sloppy inserts are used to imply that Kathie
Kori actually performed sexually for the cameras. And did I mention the
sequences of an orgy with unrelated characters that are dropped into the film
at random intervals to spice things up? Ugh! Also, this is the first movie I've
seen that uses shots of the movie's poster to display the opening credits - now
that is an effective way to save money.
is not a film to my tastes but I am still glad that Vinegar Syndrome has
released it and continues to release sleazy titles of this type. These
artifacts from cinema's underbelly are fascinating and worthy of preservation
even if their appeal is quite limited. I suspect that fans of 'classic' porn will
eat this up.
“Alamo Bay” (1985), a film directed by the
late Louis Malle, was an opportunity for the French filmmaker, who directed “Atlantic
City,” “My Dinner with Andre,” and “Elevator to the Gallows,” to add another
great film to his resume. Unfortunately, the movie, based on the true story of
conflict between American and Vietnamese fisherman in Texas, is an opportunity
In the years following the Fall of Saigon
in 1975, a million Vietnamese refugees fled to the U.S. Some of them settled in
communities along the Texas Gulf Coast. Their mere presence antagonized the
local fisherman, many of whom were Vietnam vets. One in particular, Shang
Pierce (Ed Harris) hates “gooks” and feels threatened by the competition of the
Vietnamese, who proved to be excellent fishermen and hard workers. He’s
married, but, of course, his wife is a nag, so he resumes an affair with Glory (Harris’s real life wife Amy Madigan), who has
come back to Alamo Bay to help her ailing father Wally (Donald Moffat) run his
shrimp wholesale business. The film centers on the tensions that build between
them when Shang loses his boat because of missed payments. He blames Glory and
her father for hiring Vietnamese fisherman.
Into this seething caldron of resentment,
comes Dinh (Ho Nguyen) a young Vietnamese immigrant looking for relatives who
live there. He lands a job at Wally’s, putting himself in the middle of the
conflict between Glory and Shang. When Glory defends Dinh’s right to work,
Shang perceives it as a betrayal and thinks she has more than just a
humanitarian interest in the young man.
Tensions build between the American and
Asian shrimpers. Malle and screenwriter Alice Arlen, do a good job showing the
escalation of bad feelings, and have no compunction about presenting a
one-sided view of the conflict. The Vietnamese are shown as good people who
only want to work hard, live a peaceful life, and be able to pursue their
version of the American Dream. The Americans, for the most part, are shown as
bigoted rednecks, who want the Vietnamese gone. Enter Ku Klux Klan organizer
(William Frankfurter), who tells them history has shown white people will
prevail. He begins to outline a strategy. But Shang has no patience for slow
tactics. He wants action.
The next morning armed men, some with KKK
robes and hoods, go out in their boats and take some pot shots at the Asians.
Violence increases as crosses are burned and Molotov cocktails tossed.
With this basic situation, based as it is
on real-life events, this should have been a compelling, emotionally-involving
film. But, somehow, it isn’t. Arlen’s script may be the problem. Arlen, who
co-wrote “Silkwood,” another socially conscious film, hasn’t pulled her punches
as far as showing which side she’s on. But when it is laid on this heavily,
when characters become stereotypes. who seem to exist only to prove a point,
the drama is undermined by polemic. And, oddly enough, where there should be
commentary on the racism and injustice in the story, Malle instead, presents
the scenes of hatred and violence in a flat documentary-like style, that leaves
you uninvolved. I kept thinking what Oliver Stone would have done with a story
“Alamo Bay”’s greatest failure, however, is
the lack of insight into the character of Dinh, who is presented as a positive-thinking
hard worker who just wants to fit in and achieve success. Since he is really
the central character of this story, as a symbolic representation of the entire
Vietnamese community, the filmmakers should have invested more depth to his
character. Nowhere are we shown the real impact the situation in Alamo Bay has
on him personally. Even worse there was a real chance to explore the whole
tragic series of events that resulted in him and his people having to leave
their country. There is one only one almost ludicrous exchange of dialog
between Dinh and Glory where she asks what happened to him in Vietnam. He says
the Viet Cong raided his village and he had to flee into the jungle. While
hiding there he says he had to eat grass. “Eat Grass!” Glory says, as if it
were the equivalent of surviving the Mai Lai Massacre. A better writer would
have given a deeper picture of what people like Dinh experienced as the result
of war. Eating grass would be pretty low on the list of hardships they had to
Despite its shortcoming, however, “Alamo Bay”
is worth viewing if only because it dares to deal with a subject most
filmmakers would be afraid to tackle. Harris and Madigan, who worked together
in “Places in the Heart,” the excellent HBO flick, “Riders of the Purple Sage,”
and “Pollock” are excellent. Ho Nguyen as Dinh stayed close to the surface of
his character, which was probably what Malle and Arlen wanted of him. And
more’s the pity.
“Alamo Bay,” is a one of the limited
edition (3,000 copies) Blu-Ray discs from Twilight Time. Aside from a separate
audio channel for Ry Cooder’s atmospheric score, the theatrical trailer, and a
booklet giving some background on the story written by Julie Kirgo, there are
no extras. An audio commentary, at least by Harris, Madigan or Arlen, would
seem to be a required feature for a disc selling at $29.99. But that’s all you
The transfer to Blu-Ray, however, is
flawless and the 1.0 DTS HD Master audio is very good. It’s disappointing that
the original film did not have a stereo soundtrack, but the separate track for Cooder’s
music (which is similar to the score he wrote for “Paris, Texas)” is in stereo
and sounds just fantastic.
Bottom line: “Alamo Bay” deserves viewing.
It’s a worthwhile attempt to make a serious film about an important subject. Louis
Malle is no longer with us, but thank goodness there are always a few directors
around, like him, who dare to make such films. They are, sadly, becoming an
endangered species. Kudos to Twilight Time for preserving this one to Blu-Ray.
come to the conclusion that there’s rarely been a bad submarine movie. The typical
film in this peculiar genre has a little something for every movie fan: action,
adventure, suspense, drama, claustrophobia, torpedoes, mine fields, depth
charges and silent running. The plot structure is similar to that of aircraft
disaster movies except submarines have to navigate the aforementioned mine
fields and depth charges and get to fire torpedoes.
Run” is no exception to my rule. The movie features Glenn Ford as skipper of
the Greyfish, Lt. Cmdr. Barney Doyle, and Ernest Borgnine as his executive
officer and best friend, Lt. Archer “Archie” Sloan. Like most submarine movies,
the action takes place within the narrow passageways of the sub and we get to
see a few underwater model shots of the Greyfish diving, navigating a mine
field and surviving depth charges.
do get a change of scenery throughout the movie, primarily in flashbacks of the
two friends during happier times just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re
stationed in the Philippines when Ford receives orders to set sail. Ford’s wife
and daughter are captured by the Japanese a short time later and sent to Japan
on a POW transport ship.
transport ship travels along side the aircraft carrier Shinaru, a fictional
stand-in for one of the Japanese carriers that launched the air attack on Pearl
Harbor. Ford receives word of the Shinaru’s location as well as word that his
wife and daughter are being used as human shields along with 1,400 other allied
prisoners onboard the transport ship. Sinking the Shinaru will be a huge
propaganda boon and moral booster, but launching torpedoes is tricky business
and one may hit the transport ship.
fires on the carrier, but hits the transport ship, killing everyone on board including
his wife and daughter. Ridden with guilt and filled with vengeance, he’s
obsessed with the single minded purpose of destroying the Shinaru. The rest of
the movie takes a Melvillian turn with Ford as Ahab seeking out his white
whale, the Shinaru.
is terrific as the Greyfish skipper. He’s earnest and believable as Barney
Doyle and calls upon his trademark ability
to play tough, yet compassionate good guys, as he had in scores of westerns, dramas and light
comedies as well as grittier fare such as “Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda” and “The
of earnest, Ernest Borgnine is equally good as Archie Sloan. Borgnine and Ford
play off each other rather well in what would be an otherwise routine action
movie. Borgnine is one of the great Hollywood character actors known primarily
for playing heavies, tough guys and nut-burgers in scores of movies on the big
screen. However, he was versatile enough to play the occasional lead and the
rare nice guy such as in his Oscar winning turn in “Marty” from 1955.
TV fans will undoubtedly be slightly distracted- as I was- seeing Borgnine in
naval uniform. It’s a minor and unintentionally humorous issue because Borgnine
is so closely identified as Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, a role he would make his
own a few years after the release of this movie in the popular TV comedy
series, “McHales’s Navy,” from 1962 to 1966 and in one spin-off movie. I’m
almost expecting Borgnine to say, “Okay you guys, knock it off!” and, “Stall ‘em!
I don't care how you do it but stall ‘em!” Fortunately, Capt. Binghamton does
not turn up shouting, “What is it McHale, what do you want? What, what, what?”
Brewster appears in the only major female role as Ford’s wife Jane Doyle in the
flashback scenes. Dean Jones appears as a young officer, Lt. Jake “Fuzzy”
Foley. LQ Jones and Don Keefer play crew members and Robert Hardy is on hand as
a Royal Navy liaison officer observing the use of the sub’s new sonar equipment.
to IMDb, there are a couple of uncredited “blink and you’ll miss them”
appearances in the movie by retro TV stalwarts Frank Gorshin and Robert Reed
who appear as sub crewmen. Virginia Gregg, Maj. Edna Heywood RN in “Operation
Petticoat,” provides the voice of Tokyo Rose.
“Torpedo Run” is not of the same caliber as genuinely classic submarine movies
such as “Das Boot,” “Destination Tokyo,”
“The Enemy Below,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “On the Beach,” “Operation
Pacific,” “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” However, it is very watchable and features all
the typical submarine movie clichés in addition to great effects and fine
performances by Ford and Borgnine.
movie was produced and released by MGM in CinemaScope making good use of the
widescreen, with nice model sequences and well integrated stock footage. The
movie is based on stories by Richard Sale who co-wrote the screenplay. A
prolific writer and sometimes director, Sale is best known as the author of
“The Oscar” and “White Buffalo,” both of which were adapted as movies.
in October 1958, “Torpedo Run” also oddly played on a double bill with “Fiend
Without a Face” in November of that year. March 1958 saw the release of the
similarly themed submarine movie, “Run Silent, Run Deep,” with Clark Gable and
Burt Lancaster. While “Torpedo Run” is a good WWII drama, Ford and Borgnine
can’t quite compete with the performances of Gable and Lancaster and Robert
Wise’s gritty direction.
Run” is a burn to order DVD released as part of the WB Archive Collection. The
movie looks terrific and sounds good. The only extra on the disc is the
theatrical trailer. This is a movie that rarely made the rotation on local TV in
my area when I was a kid, so it was very refreshing to watch it again after so
many years. The film is a welcome addition for any fan of military adventure movies.
The good folks at Scorpion Entertainment have done it again by producing first rate special collector's DVD and Blu-ray editions of a film that most critics dismissed as second rate at the time of its initial release. In this case, the film is "Dogs", which was unleashed (if you pardon the pun) on theaters in 1976, an era in which audiences went mad for movies about animals waging war on humanity. The modestly-budgeted production was shot in southern California on the outskirts of San Diego, with some key scenes filmed at Southwestern University. Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, who went on to become a popular director of hit TV series, the film is set in an unnamed college in an unnamed town in an unnamed state. Suffice it to say that the area is fairly rural and the townspeople all seem to have connections to the local university. A bearded, shaggy-haired and denim-clad David McCallum is Harlan Thompson, a science instructor at the school, whose counter-culture viewpoints and cynical disposition makes him a controversial figure among his peers. Nevertheless, when a series of mysterious and gruesome deaths occur, it is Thompson who is consulted about finding the culprit. Working with a new colleague at the school, Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner) and the town's sheriff (Eric Server), Thompson is at first baffled by what kind of wild animals would attack humans in a pack and leave their corpses chewed almost beyond recognition. When local dogs begin to act inexplicably vicious towards their owners, Thompson and Fitzgerald theorize that a local top secret government experiment with sensitive chemicals might some how be causing these generally benign household pets to become murderous beasts. In any event, it isn't long before Thompson and Fitzgerald encounter every classic cliched character to be found in horror films of the era. There is the stubborn bureaucrat who refuses to accept that a crisis is at hand. There are the trigger-happy mob members who set off on an ill-fated hunt for the furry fiends. There is the sexy young woman (Pre-"Dallas" Linda Gray) who inevitably feels compelled to take a shower, with predictably disastrous results. (Yes, a Doberman manages to sneak into her bathroom in the film's mandatory homage to "Psycho"). Rounding out the "must-haves" for films of this genre, the climax must place a considerable number of students in imminent danger of suffering gruesome deaths.
Although "Dogs" is a factory of cliches, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film. It's a true independent production that lacked any studio backing. As such, director Brinckerhoff does yeoman work getting around the obvious budget constraints. Although one assumes the cast and crew had their tongues firmly in their cheeks while shooting the movie, everyone plays it straight and no one goes for an over-the-top laugh. You keep waiting for one of those "so bad, it's good" moments to arrive, but surprisingly, the film remains a rather effective thriller. The premise, of course, is absurd...but so was the premise of Hitchcock's "The Birds", which is clearly the prime inspiration for "Dogs". The notion that any rural town in modern society can be completely cut off from humanity was far fetched when Hitchcock's film was released in 1963 and was even more unrealistic in 1976. You also have to accept the other horror film cliche that occurs routinely in this movie: when people realize they are in imminent danger and have a method of escaping, they find a reason to delay their departure until it is too late. In this case, people who should immediately flee decide to "gather a few things together" first, as though stockpiling deodorant and hair gel would even cross your mind if you were in danger of being ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Refreshingly, however, the heroes of the film, played by McCallum and Wyner, act like true academics would in a crisis situation. They are not turned immediately into superheroes and when they take up arms, it has a tragic consequence. They also make human errors and prove to be wrong in some of their judgments. McCallum's trademark acting style of underplaying a scene has served him well throughout his career. While other actors often over-emote, he can quietly steal a scene even in such star-packed films as "Billy Budd", "The Great Escape" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told." This is an off-beat role for him and he delivers a fine performance. He's matched by George Wyner, who went on to have a very successful career as a character actor in hit comedies, though there is little evidence of his comedic appeal here. The two actors work well together and are joined by a competent supporting cast that includes Sandra McCabe, who nominally serves as McCallum's romantic interest but is really on-screen to provide the necessary "woman in jeopardy" sequences.
The Scorpion special edition DVD includes a campy introduction by their in-house hostess, actress Katarina Leigh Waters, who provides some interesting facts about the production while spoofing the horror film genre. There is also a documentary with recent interviews with Bruce Brinckerhoff, George Wyner, Eric Server and other people who worked on the production. Wyner and Server both talk about being thrilled to work with McCallum, who was the only big star associated with the production. Brinckerhoff, who is clearly proud of the film, discusses how the lack of production funds necessitated some of the actors to do their own stunts, which are uniformly impressive. He also points out the the film was edited by John Wright, who went on to receive two Oscar nominations and is today regarded as a top editor in the industry. The special edition also includes the original theatrical trailer.
"Dogs" had a patchwork release and, to my knowledge, never even played in some key American cities. However, it did sensational business internationally and in rural American areas where its intended audience- the drive-in-crowd - responded to the chilling one sheet poster and the ominously-narrated trailer and TV spots. The flick has held up well over the years and if you view it in the proper context, it remains and effective example of indie filmmaking, both in execution and in marketing.
If you want to "fetch" a copy from Amazon, click here to order DVD edition or click here to order Blu-ray.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release.)
scientist Nils Ahlen (John McCallum) has developed a process via which sound impulses
can be converted into electrical energy. When his wife Helga (Mary Laura Wood)
and assistant Sven (Anthony Dawson) abscond with vital components of the
revolutionary device, Ahlen teams up with Police Inspector Peterson (Jack
Warner) to chase them down. The pursuit takes them into the icy, blizzard-wreathed
wilderness where they seek the assistance of Lapp reindeer herders to help them
survive the perilous terrain.
and directed by thrice Bond-helmer Terence Young more than a decade before he
first brought the celebrated spy to the screen, 1951’s Valley of Eagles was shot over a couple of months in testing
Norwegian weather conditions. The film has taken a fair bit of stick in the
past, the main target of viewer negativity being that what kicks off as a
promising B-grade crime thriller quickly devolves into a life-evaluating
melodrama. A bit disappointing, perhaps, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie,
so – always one to buck the trend – I’m pleased to have the chance to redress
the balance here. There’s no disputing that 60-something years after the fact,
the plotting of Valley of Eagles
could be classed a little mundane; cinema has come a long way in the years
since the picture first saw the light of a projector bulb (though not always
for the better), and mundane is an accusation that could be levelled at a hefty
percentage of the cinematic output of that period. Yet that doesn’t translate
as making it a pointless investment of one’s time.
narrative is never less than engaging, peppered as it is with outbursts of brutality
(wolves are vigorously slain with ski poles) and exotic sex appeal (courtesy of
Nadia Gray, hair appealingly braided, as tough Lapp maiden Lara). There’s also
a terrific set piece in which a pack of wolves assail a team of herders astride
reindeer, the wolves themselves then set upon by the titular birds of prey. The
cast does a serviceable job with the material at hand, particularly an
underused Dawson, the consummate shifty-eyed baddie (see also Dial M for Murder, Dr No and Midnight Lace for
similarly sinister turns). Future Dixon
of Dock Green Jack Warner, here bearing a remarkable resemblance to Bernard
Lee, makes for a staunch lead and if McCallum comes across as a little starchy
that’s because the character he’s portraying is. It’s also nice to see an
early, albeit minor appearance by Christopher Lee wearing an amusingly wide-brimmed
hat. The film certainly benefits from its exhaustive, picturesque location
shoot, with some splendid Harry Waxman cinematography on offer (Pinewood-lensed
back projection shows up only occasionally) and suitably dense, if not
especially memorable Nino Rota compositions serve to underscore the gravity of
the onscreen drama.
Valley of Eagles is
available on DVD from Fabulous Films/Freemantle Media. The print utilised has
certainly seen better days, with a surfeit of light scratches and various
accumulations of detritus in evidence throughout. But one should overlook such
deficiencies and be grateful for this DVD premiere of what I’d have no
hesitation in labelling a “golden oldie”. The disc supplements are slight, though
still worth perusing, and comprise galleries of hand-coloured lobby cards,
press stills and poster art, along with interesting textual material that one
presumes has been lifted from the original release pressbook.
Twilight Time has released Stanley Kramer's 1969 WWII era comedy "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" as a limited edition (3,000 units) Blu-ray. I hadn't seen the film since it was originally released and only had vague recollections of it. Watching it today, I found the movie to be an absolute delight thanks to a terrific script by Ben Maddow and William Rose (the latter co-wrote Kramer's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World") and a sterling cast. The film is set in 1943 in the small Italian village of Santa Vittoria. The story opens with a young university studio, Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini in one of his first major roles) who hurries to his native town to breathtakingly inform the residents that Mussolini has just been deposed. The announcement is met with a collective yawn by the townspeople, who have remained largely immune from the effects of the war and their dictator's fascist police state. However, when the towns folk learn that German soldiers will be occupying Santa Vittoria, there is widespread concern. The town's one claim to fame is its production of popular wines which are exported in massive numbers. Everyone in town depends in some way on the revenues from the wine sales and it becomes apparent that the German army intends to confiscate the town's precious inventory. Through happenstance, a local wine merchant, Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) has been appointed mayor. He is regarded as an idiot by everyone including his long-suffering wife Rosa (Anna Magnani), who has grown weary over the decades of trying to cope with his laziness and regular bouts of wine-fueled excesses. Recognizing that the seizure of the town's stockpile of wine will leave the locals destitute, Bombolini devises a seemingly preposterous plan to leave enough wine on hand to satisfy the Germans that they have secured the lion's share of the inventory. Meanwhile, prior to their arrival, the entire town will participate in a massive effort to hide the bulk of the inventory in a local cave and then have a wall constructed to hide the stash. The plan proves surprisingly effective and Bombolini emerges as an unlikely leader, who rallies the locals in the Herculean effort that involves hundreds of townspeople forming seemingly endless lines in which people painstakingly pass hundreds of thousands of bottles from hand to hand one-by-one.
When the German forces finally arrive, they are under the command of Capt. von Prum (Hardy Kruger). He is a civil, even charming, fellow who nevertheless makes it clear to Bombolini that he is no fool. von Prum has anticipated that substantial wine bottles are hidden somewhere but Bombolini, who puts on a respectable act of being a fawning, spineless civil servant, adamantly denies the charge. The tenuous situation is made more dangerous when von Prum turns his attentions to romancing a local beauty, a cultured woman named Caterina (Virna Lisi), who reluctantly plays along with him because she doesn't want to incur his wrath. Seems she is secretly hiding her real lover, an Italian army deserter, Tufa (Sergio Franchi). It seems Bombolini is winning the war of wills but before the Germans can depart with the stores of wine, the Gestapo arrives with evidence that a cache has indeed been hidden. The frolicking good times seem over for the townspeople when von Prum's methods are overruled in favor of torture.
The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a truly underrated gem with one of those glorious, scenery-chewing performances that only Anthony Quinn could successfully pull off without looking hammy. He's in full Zorba mode here, turning the lowly and discredited town idiot into a figure of courage and nobility. Quinn is more than matched by Anna Magnani as his fiery-tongued wife. They are like an Italian version of Ralph and Alice Kramden, constantly trading barbs and insults in sequences that are genuinely amusing. It's also fun watching the scenes in which the beleaguered Bombolini must also deal with his teenage daughter's (Patrizia Valturri) raging hormones and her quest to lose her virginity to her student lover, Fabio. Director Kramer is at his best and the sequences in which the townspeople join together to hide the wine are almost epic in scope. It's a touching, funny and moving film that is set to a fabulous score by frequent Kramer collaborate Ernest Gold.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray provides a terrific transfer an isolated track score, the original trailer and an informative collector's book with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Highly recommended.
folks at Warner Archives have just released a burn-to-order DVD collectionthat
includes all the M-G-M shorts that the Three Stooges made at that legendary studio
with their one-time manager Ted Healy. “Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory
Volume 3” featuring Howard, Fine and Howard (aka Moe, Larry and Curly) features
six zany shorts that need to be seen to
be believed. They are:
(1933) wherein Ted Healy attempts to get through a song with interruptions from
the Stooges in between big production numbers from M-G-M's feature film “Flying
High”. The Stooges’ routine is based on their vaudeville stage act.
and Movies” (1934) is a two-color Technicolor short that features Jerry (Curly)
Howard -without Moe & Larry- acting in support of Greek-dialect comedian
George Givot. This short gives Curly the opportunity to act as the middle Stooge
and allows comedian Bobby Callahan to play the kind of character Curly would
normally play. The short incorporates two musical numbers lifted from earlier
M-G-M Technicolor features, "The Chinese
Ballet" (taken from “Lord Byron Of Broadway” (1930) and "Raising The
Dust", which originally from “Children Of Pleasure” (1930).
Idea” (1934) casts Ted Healy as an “Idea Man for Hire” who comes up with insane
concepts for film plots. The Stooges drop in and out playing the old Civil War
tune "Marching Through Georgia" with soaking results. A deleted
number from M-G-M's “Dancing Lady” rounds out this final M-G-M short made by
Pretzels” (1933) presents the second M-G-M short made by Healy and the Stooges.
In this one, we find them being thrown out of work in a theater and getting jobs
as performing waiters in a German-style beer hall with predictable results.
Rhymes” (1933): In this, the first M-G-M short to feature Ted Healy and His
Stooges, the boys play Healy's "sons". Their pleas to their Papa to
tell them a bedtime story leads to a lot of eye gouging, cranium smacking and
hair pulling in the pre-code film. The
use of two-strip Technicolor was predicated on the fact that most of the shorts
in this collection (and many other from M-G-M between 1930 - 1934) were making
use of material from an abandoned feature film M-G-M made in 1930 entitled “The
March of Time”, which had been shot in two-color Technicolor. M-G-M was a
factory known to never waste anything, including valuable film stock. Thus, the
Healy and the Stooges footage was filmed to wrap around these big production
numbers, that were largely designed by ballet's Albertina Rasch (the wife
of legendary film composter composer Dimitri Tiomkin).
“Hello Pop!” (1933) The real prize of this collection is this Technicolor gem.
Restored in 2013 after being lost for over 40 years, this film had its
resurrection last year at Film Forum in New York City. Through the hard work of
The Vitaphone Project, YCM Laboratories and the good folks at Warner Bros.,
this "Holy Grail" for Stooge fans can now be yours. In this short,
Ted Healy is a nervous wreck who is trying to put on a Broadway show. Besides
dealing with temperamental artists (the great Henry Armetta, among them) he has
his three "sons" to deal with, and you can guess who plays them. Two
Technicolor musical numbers round out this short.
quality is excellent, particularly when you consider that “Hello Pop!” was
made from the only existing 35mm print. If you love the Stooges, as well as
historic golden oldies, this release is a “must”. Get it, and sit back and
"NYUK" it up.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film on Region 2 format.)
In Roy Ward Baker’s 1960s
comedy-drama Two Left Feet, Michael
Crawford plays Alan Crabbe, a clumsy and unlucky-in-love 19-year-old who begins
dating ‘Eileen, the Teacup Queen’, a waitress at his local cafe. She lives in Camden Town and there are rumours
that she’s married, but that doesn’t seem to alter her behavior. Alan and
Eileen travel into London’s ‘Floride Club’, where the Storyville Jazzmen play
trad for the groovers and shakers. Eileen turns out to be a ‘right little madam’,
who is really just stringing Alan along. She’s the kind of girl who only dates
to get into places and then starts chatting to randoms once inside. She takes
up with ruffian Ronnie, while Alan meets a nice girl, Beth Crowley. But Eileen holds
a strange hold over Alan and at a wedding celebration of their friends, Brian
and Mavis, they are caught in bed together – which ruins his relationship with
Beth and gets him on the wrong side of Ronnie and his flick-knife.
‘Two Left Feet’ is a pretty
gritty Brit-com of misunderstood youth and romantic entanglements. It’s the
antithesis of Cliff Richard’s day-glow musical fantasies ‘Summer Holiday’ and
‘The Young Ones’, and closer to kitchen sink dramas: the roughness of ‘Beat
Girl’ or the tragicomedy of ‘Billy Liar’. The inspired cast is a major asset,
with several of the roles providing early opportunities for future stars. Michael
Crawford went on to massive fame in the TV series ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’as clumsy, socially inept Frank
Spencer. He’s also went on to appear in some very good British film comedies in
the 1960s, including ‘The Knack…and How to Get It’, ‘The Jokers’ and ‘How I Won
the War’. Nyree Dawn Porter, cast as Eileen, was memorable as Irene in TV’s ‘The
Forsyte Saga’. Porter is excellent
here as the sexy seductress and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Another of the clubgoers is played by David Hemmings, who oozes cool and class
as Brian. Julia Foster, from ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ and
‘Alfie’, plays Beth. The
appropriately-named Michael Craze plays psycho Ronnie, Dilys Watling is Brian’s
girl Mavis and Hammer Films’ regular Michael Ripper played her Uncle Reg. Cyril
Chamberlain shows up as garage owner Mr Miles and David Lodge appears Alan’s cocky
co-worker Bill. James Bond’s M crops up
again, with the ubiquitous Bernard Lee playing Alan’s father, a policemen.
British rock ‘n’ roller Tommy Bruce performs the title song, ‘Two Left Feet’, in imitable bellowing style,
while the band in the Cavern-like ‘Floride Club’ is Bob Wallis and His
‘Two Left Feet’ was based
on the 1960 novel ‘In My Solitude’ by David Stewart Leslie. Wide-eyed, but
strangely disillusioned, the protagonists of this story are caught in a period snapshot
between the dour 1950s and the soon-to-be-fab Sixties. The sequences shot in
London, including near the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus, locate the film
historically to a very specific time and place. The cinema billboards display
adverts for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘How the West Was Won’, but on Alan’s
visits ‘Up West’, he prefers to frequent the more niche ‘Bijou Cinema’, which
is showing Harrison Marks’ nudie feature ‘Naked as Nature Intended’, starring
‘The Fabulous Pamela Green’. The social mores of the era are also to the fore –
when offered a smoke on her way to the club, Eileen is aghast: ‘Cigarette? Not
in the street thank you!’. Membership of the ‘Floride Club’ is 12/6 (a
pre-decimalisation twelve shillings and sixpence) and sensible Alan decides he
can’t get married yet because he’s too young and financially challenged. The
wedding reception has none of the scale of modern wedding celebrations – it’s
just a gathering at a private residence, with a buffet, party games and
sing-song at the piano. The generational gap is keenly delineated in the
relationship between Alan and his father. His father’s generation’s upbringing
was strict – they learned respect, lived by the rules and didn’t question them
– while Alan’s generation is unfettered by such notions. The presumption is
that they can be anything, do anything and be free as air.
‘Two Left Feet’ is part of Network’s
‘The British Film’ collection. It’s another British Lion release shot at
Shepperton Studios and the disc includes an image gallery and promotional
material pdf. It is rated 15 in the UK, presumably for the mild sexual
promiscuity, the prominent use of knives by Ronnie and the beating Alan
receives from Ronnie’s heavies. The film is another interesting 1960s British
film rescued from obscurity and is worth seeing for both Hemmings and Porter,
and the energetic dance moves in the ‘Floride Club’. It’s worth mentioning that
if you like this type of 1960s film, then check out Hemmings’ excellent film ‘Some
People’ (1962), also from Network, with he and Ray Brooks playing bikers who form
a rock ‘n’ roll band.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release)
By Tim Greaves
on the novel “Whispering Woman” by Gerald Verner, 1953’s seldom-seen whodunit Noose for a Lady marked the directorial
debut of Wolf Rilla (Village of the
Damned), and stars a host of reliable British stalwarts. A quaint, cliché
ridden drama, it offers up a modicum of intrigue and sufficient suspense to
tickle the palate of the most jaded aficionado of such fare. It even pulls a
satisfying rabbit out of its hat with a final reveal that this seasoned
reviewer readily admits he hadn’t seen coming. Yes, of course it creaks a
little, but if nothing else it’s guaranteed to hold your attention for its succinct
for the screen by Rex Rienits, it hits the ground running with the sentencing to
death by hanging of Margaret Hallam (Pamela Alan), found guilty of poisoning
her husband, despite her protestations to the contrary. With just seven days
until Margaret’s execution, her stepdaughter Jill (Rona Anderson) decrees she
will find the real killer. Assisted by Margaret’s determined cousin, Simon Gale
(Dennis Price), that’s precisely what she sets out to do.
the requisite ingredients of the quintessential British whodunit are present
and correct here, first and foremost the gathering of deliciously suspicious
characters – each of whom had the means and motive to bump off Hallam – which
includes the barbiturate dispensing doctor (Ronald Howard), the gossiping
spinster (Esma Cannon), the disgraced major (Colin Tapley), the irascible
ex-con (Robert Brown), and family friends with secrets to hide (Charles Lloyd
Pack and Melissa Stribling). These are characters who utter such lines as
“There’s something I must tell you – meet me tonight”, immediately signing
themselves up for an early trip to the grave before they have the opportunity
to blab. Also in situ is that feather-in-the-cap moment for every amateur
sleuth, the Poirot-esque summoning of the suspects to the drawing room to
reveal the killer’s identity. In this instance the murderer is revealed to be…(the
light snaps out…a gunshot sounds…a scream echoes through the darkness)… well, you’ll
just have to buy the DVD to find out.
Noose for a Lady has just been issued
on disc by Network Distributing as another welcome addition to its valuable “The
British Film” collection. A brand new transfer from the original film elements,
aside from a few minor crackles and pops on the soundtrack, it’s a stellar
presentation and well worth investing in. Bonus features comprise a trailer
(preceded by a nostalgia evoking censor’s card classifying it as a “U trailer
advertising an A film”) and a small gallery of promotional art and press
stills. A word about the galleries included on Network’s releases: Even though those
included on many titles are slender affairs, all kudos to the company for
taking the time to assemble such materials instead of taking the easy route and
simply batching together some pointless frame-grabs and peddling them as worthy
supplementary incentive; there have been far too many perpetrators of that crime.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 DVD release).
By Tim Greaves
first encountered Lionel Jeffries’ 1973 melodrama Baxter! during the summer of 1978 on what I believe to be its one
and only British television airing by the BBC. Its conspicuous absence on video
in the UK – and, until 2014, DVD – meant that, for me, some 36 years elapsed
between viewings. A small, and in many respects not particularly memorable
film, it nevertheless stayed with me over the intervening years for, I think, two
reasons. The first was its unexpectedly dark nature, which completely caught me
off guard given the family friendly nature of the director’s previous films, The Railway Children and The Amazing Mr Blunden; best remembered
for his myriad of on-screen performances, Baxter!
was in fact the third of only five projects which positioned Jeffries on the
other side of the camera. The second reason that solitary viewing remained
lodged in my psyche was a narrative jolt towards the end involving the demise
of a key character (which the 16 year-old me found extremely upsetting).
the tale of the titular character (played by Scott Jacoby), an American boy who
arrives in London with his insensitive mother (Lynn Carlin) in the wake of her
acrimonious separation from his father (Paul Maxwell). His Christian name is
Roger, unfortunate given the fact he suffers from a speech impediment which
prevents him from pronouncing his R’s, yet he treats his handicap with good
humour. At first Baxter appears to fit in well at school, where he makes easy friends,
and quickly ingratiates himself with other residents in the vicinity of his
home, among them a chef, also named Roger (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his girlfriend
Chris (Britt Ekland) and the irritatingly extrovert teenager ‘Nemo’ (Sally
Thomsett). But it gradually becomes apparent that Baxter’s lonely childhood – starved
of affection by his bickering, self-occupied parents – has scarred him badly.
Can the intervention of school therapist Dr Clemm (Patricia Neal) save the poor
lad before calamity descends?
Audiard’s script handles the maudlin subject matter with care ensuring that it
steers clear of becoming depressing, though it should be noted that anyone
looking for a happy ending is watching the wrong movie. The engaging narrative notwithstanding,
the chief appeal of Baxter! for this
reviewer is the marvellous assembly of players. Cassel’s amiable chef almost steals
the show (the scene in which the two Rogers prepare an evening meal together is
a standout) and Carlin is suitably despicable, while Ekland is gorgeousness
incarnate; one can’t help falling a little bit in love with her. There’s a nice
turn too from Paul Eddington as a sarcastic teacher. Only Neal is a little
disappointing with a role she never seems quite comfortable in. But this is
really Scott Jacoby’s film; a slightly cocky but innately witty teenager,
“Woger” has the audience in his pocket within the first few scenes and the
actor’s performance when Baxter succumbs to a severe case of anxiety carries immense
emotional heft. (As an aside, it’s sobering to note that Jacoby was 16 when the
film was shot – he can now see 60 on his horizon!)
with an infectious Michael J. Lewis score, in summation Baxter! may not exactly be the experience one expects of a Lionel
Jeffries film, but it’s a worthwhile one just the same. The film’s patient admirers
have finally been rewarded, for after 41 years the film surfaces on DVD in the
UK as a constituent of Network Distributing’s ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The pleasing transfer is accompanied by an original theatrical trailer
and a bountiful gallery of promotional stills.
(The following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
LOVE IS A LOSING GAME
Network continues to
release some unusual examples of retro British cinemabilia. This adaptation of
Graham Greene’s ‘Loser Takes All’ was shot at Shepperton Studios and on
fabulous locations in the Principality of Monaco. At the big London firm SIFA, assistant
accountant Bertrand solves an accounting mistake that impresses his boss
Dreuther so much that he insists Bertrand takes up his very generous (and
highly implausible) offer. Instead of getting married to his fiancée Cary in
Bournemouth as planned, Bertrand can instead get hitched in Monte Carlo, on the
company’s chequebook. Oh, for a boss like Dreuther...
Soon Bertrand and Cary are
living the highlife in the casino capital of Europe, staying in the royal suite
of the hotel and enjoying a lavish holiday. But Dreuther, who’s supposed to
meet them there on his yacht, is delayed, and after they are married, their spending
money runs out. The pair is reduced to living on coffee and bread rolls, until
the hotel manager notes they aren’t spending much money and are avoiding all
the hotel staff at every opportunity, so he lends them 250,000 francs. Bertrand
is a mathematician who wants to try out his system that he thinks will win him
a fortune on the casino tables. After a marathon gambling stint, Bertrand
arrives back at their hotel room to tell Cary that he’s won five million francs.
With great wealth comes a change in personality for Bertrand and he becomes
preoccupied with the acquisition of money and power, even to the point of
buying shares in SIFA and becoming a force in opposition to Dreuther. But his
single-mindedness drives sweet Cary away, into the arms of pipe-smoking smoothy
Philip. Now Bertrand must win back his bride, or it’s Monte Carlo or Bust (up).
As the trailer put it: ‘Here’s a honeymoon that isn’t all honey’.
This movie is as wafting a
piece of Continental fluff as you can imagine – lovely, old-fashioned cosiness
from a bygone age. Italian heartthrob Rossano Brazzi is the impulsive Latino
lead, Bertrand, while British actress Glynis Johns is his charming bride. Tony
Britton played Philip and Robert Morley plays Robert Morley – as he seemed to
do in all his films – as the company’s all-powerful MD Dreuther. Look fast for
a young Shirley Anne Field as Bertrand’s date in the casino. At the time of the
film’s release, ‘Today’s Cinema’ optimistically noted it ‘Has the zest and zing
of a Mediterranean holiday…if the sun never shines again this year, Loser Takes
All will make up for it’. And the admen went to town on the taglines for this
one too, calling it ‘The warmest, wonderful-est, winning-est romance-of-the-year’
and ‘It’s a spectacular CinemascoPeek inside high society’s swankiest
playground’. With dresses by Christian Dior and a light and airy score from
Alessandro Cicognini, this movie scores best in its visual and aural depiction
of Monaco and especially Monte Carlo. The on-location filming livens up the
plot with its breathtaking scenery as a backdrop. There’s a superb sequence of
Bertrand and Cary riding a Vespa on mountain roads, which lead up to a rustic,
folksy village – a setting in massive contrast to the wealth and splendour of
Monte Carlo. In fact it’s to the simplicity of the village that Cary wants to
return when they strike it rich, but Bertrand is too enamoured with the
highlife. While there’s nothing groundbreaking on display in ‘Loser Takes All’,
it’s a pleasant enough scoot, with a bit of romance, a bit of drama, a bit of
comedy, stirred into the mix. Johns is the best aspect of the film and is
highly watchable as the chirpy, quirky newlywed. Greene’s novel was adapted
again in 1990 as ‘Strike it Rich’, with Robert Lindsay and Molly Ringwald as
Bertrand and Cary, and a cast that included John Gielgud (as Dreuther) and
comedian Max Wall.
‘Loser Takes All’ is presented
in the CinemaScope widescreen format and is ‘a brand-new transfer from the
original film elements’. The colours are strong if you boost the colour on the TV,
but the image seems a little soft and could do with a sharpen. ‘Loser Takes
All’ is another addition to Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a
five-year project to release over 450 British films via a deal with
Studiocanal. It’s a British Lion release and the disc includes the original
trailer and a gallery of colourful poster artwork. In 1956, the periodical
‘Daily Film Renter’ deemed it ‘Exhilarating as champagne’. If the lovers’ antics seem a little flat 58
years later, there’s always those gorgeous Eastmancolor Monte Carlo vistas to
I was an avid cinema goer
back in the ‘80s and a normal week could consist of up to four visits to sample
the attractions on offer. Luckily I had a cinema 10 minutes from my house as
well as several others in my home town of Newcastle. My local, “The Jesey”, would show films about
2-3 weeks after their initial run “in town” at the likes of The Odeon which premiered
all the big new releases. However, being a fan of less mainstream films, I
would also venture across the river Tyne to places like Gateshead, Low Fell and
Byker, because these less salubrious cinemas across the water would show the
kind of films you wouldn’t find running in the more mainstream chains. A lot of
these were Cannon cinema’s owned by Golan and Globus (subjects of a new
documentary) or just so run down that they’d run everything from Lemon Popsicle
to Flesh Gordon to lesser known Cannon gems such as Lifeforce and Runaway Train.
It never ceases to amaze me that there were still a couple of low budget (but
big in America) fan favourites that would and should have been shown at these
venues that simply passed me by. Those two films were Night Of The Creeps and Night
Of The Comet, both of which I finally got to see this month- the latter 30
years after its initial release, hopefully long enough to be classed as retro
enough forCinema Retro!
As fortune would have it, Night of the Creeps
had its first UK TV showing on Film Four recently and I really loved this film
(to quote a line from it, it did “Thrill Me”.) It was well worth the wait. At
the same time Arrow Video then announced the forthcoming UK Blu-ray and DVD release
of Night of the Comet. I couldn’t
believe my luck. So did the second cult classic of the ‘80s shape up or
disappoint? Well, great films, like comets themselves, only present themselves
every now and again and sometimes burn brighter than they did when first they
first appeared, which is the case here as Night Of The Comet is easily the most
enjoyable film I’ve seen all year.
Eighteen year-old Reggie
(Catherine Mary Stewart – Weekend at Bernie’s, The Last Starfighter) misses out
on the event-of-a-lifetime when she ditches watching the comet in favour of
copping off with the projectionist at the cinema where she works. But this
turns out to be a wise move when, the next day, she discovers that the entire
population has been reduced to piles of red dust – leaving only Reggie, her
sister Sam (Kelli Maroney – Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Chopping Mall) and a
handful of other survivors to fend off the roving gangs of glassy-eyed zombies.
Taking its cue from
classic “doomsday” movies such as The Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man
(and with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead thrown in for good measure), Night
of the Comet is an irresistible slice of Reagan-era B-movie fare which features
Cyndi Lauper dance-alongs (these girls just wanna have fun!) as well as some
truly gravity-defying bouffant hairstyles and some superb Zombie make-ups. The
“Zombie-Cop” is an iconic monster from the 80’s, of that there is no doubt. As
always with Arrow, the transfer is top notch, showing off the films amazing
colour pallet and the extras are brilliantly done (such as taking a shot of a
character writing on a note pad and intercutting it with the name of the
documentary, as though the on screen character is actually writing its title on
screen. It’s an indication of the time,
effort and humour that the Arrow team put into their releases.These extra’s include:
·High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and
Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original
film elements by MGM
·Original 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM
on the Blu-ray)
·Optional English subtitles for the
deaf and hard of hearing
·Audio commentary with
writer/director Thom Eberhardt
·Audio commentary with stars Kelli
Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·Audio commentary with production designer
·Valley Girls at the End of the World
– Interviews with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart
·The Last Man on Earth? – An
interview with actor Robert Beltran
·End of the World Blues – A brand new
interview with Star Mary Woronov
·Curse of the Comet – An Interview
with special make-up effects creator David B. Miller
·Original Theatrical Trailer
·Reversible sleeve featuring original
and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
·Collector’s booklet featuring new
writing on the film by James Oliver illustrated with original archive stills
the film is very much of its time, it is also timeless as all great cult films
should be. The fact that the film constantly refers to and pays homage to other sci-fi classics is
fabulous, but it is the little less- than- obvious touches that will make for
repeated viewings. My favourite:s one of the survivors of the night of the
comet opens a sealed projection room door and the poster taped onto it was the
Gable/Lombard camp classic Red Dust, which is exactly what all those outside
now are. Touches like that are missing from the “Zombie” (i.e. made and watched
by) films of today. So, my advice is to buy this new Arrow release and draw the
blinds and watch the magical colours on screen and for once “Don’t watch The Skies”.
1983, a serial killer claims more than a dozen lives in and around Rome,
apparently targeting his victims at random, and then disappears.The killer leaves his signature in blood at
each crime scene: “Canepazzo,” or “Crazy Dog.”Thirty years later, Marco Costa (Gian Marco Tavani), the son of one of
the victims, interviews Raul Chinna (Marco Bonetti), a retired criminologist.Obsessively pursuing Canepazzo’s decades-cold
trail, Costa hopes that he can unearth clues from Chinna’s old investigative
files.Who was Crazy Dog, why did he
murder Costa’s father, and why did he abruptly end his bloody spree?If he’s still alive, can Marco locate him and
avenge his father’s death? Revealing that the man who knew the most about the
crimes was a young investigative reporter, David Moiraghi(Giuseppe Schisano), Chinna begins to recount
a sequence of events based on Moiraghi’s interrogations of witnesses and
examinations of the murder scenes.
back-of-the-case blurb on the One7Movies 2014 DVD release of “Crazy Dog” likens
David Petrucci’s 2012 movie to the Italian giallo
and polizio thrillers of the Cinema
Retro era.Petrucci underscores the
homage by casting three 1970s Italian genre icons -- Marco Bonetti, Franco
Nero, and Tinto Brass -- in prominent roles.Another influence would seem to be the long-running U.S. TV series “Cold
Case” (2003-2010), in Petrucci’s structure of a present-day investigator
delving into a decades-old mystery, with period-detail flashbacks to the
crime.There’s a trace of Fritz Lang’s
“M” (1931) as well, when a Rome crime boss strongarms his way into Moiraghi’s
investigation for reasons of his own.
Dog” exhibits some of the limitations of a multi-tasking auteur working
independently on a limited budget.(Petrucci produced, edited, and directed from a script by Igor
Maltagliati.)The cast of primary
characters is small, many scenes are driven either by lengthy dialogue or
conversely by dialogue-free montage, and some of the actors are more effective
than others.A scene centering on Nero
as a loquacious, crackpot artist runs on for far too long, but Cinema Retro
fans will feel inclined to forgive Petrucci: if you land Nero for a film, and
you probably can afford only a limited amount of his time, who wouldn’t make
the most of the opportunity?The framing
device of the present-day interview with the retired criminologist seems
confining at first, but as Maltagliati’s story progresses, the reason for
constructing the movie in that way becomes ingeniously clear.
Region 0 DVD is well executed.Colors
are vivid and details are sharp in the movie’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio.The DVD uses the Italian-language print of
the film and provides subtitles in English.The disc includes two extras: the film’s original trailer and a photo
gallery.The One7Movies Region 0 DVD of
“Crazy Dog” can be ordered HERE.
It's become a tradition in the United States that, with the onset of summer, the media goes into overdrive trying to scare the pants off people with hyper-inflated warnings about the "shark menace". Forget the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being devoured by a Great White shark- all anyone remembers is that trouble maker Steven Spielberg embellishing in our brains the image of Robert Shaw serving as a human smorgasbord for Bruce, the mechanical shark. This year, the "shark menace" was relatively subdued on TV and on-line thanks to any number of genuine crisis ranging from the rise of Isis to President Putin's obsession to ensuring that Eastern Europe returns to the joyful period of Stalinism. Nevertheless, shark mania was never too far below the surface. The Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" festival features seven days of 24/7 shows about the planet's least-endearing creatures. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Smithsonian Channel has followed suit with "Shark Collection", a DVD comprising of three diverse documentaries. There isn't a "Sharknado" movie to be found, as these programs examine various aspects of the real life plight of various sharks and how they are faring through conservation efforts in recent years.
The first episode is titled "Shark Girl" and offers a fascinating portrait of a fascinating young woman. Madison Stewart is a 19 year old Australian firebrand who has had an obsession with sharks since childhood. With her parent's support, she left school in order to pursue a lifelong career in shark conservation. The film follows her on exotic diving trips to continue her education about the habits of some of the deadliest species. Stewart is consistently engaging and disarmingly charismatic but she is also unstoppable in her determination to bring about stronger conservation laws around the world. The film follows her land-based political efforts that include lobbying Woolworth's (yes, they're still a big chain in Oz) to stop selling shark meat. When the appeal on an emotional level doesn't work, Stewart secures a report from the an internationally respected laboratory proving that the shark meat the stores are selling contains levels of mercury that are far above the recommended allowance. She starts a media campaign warning that people might be putting their health in jeopardy by indulging in this delicacy. The film shows some stomach-turning of magnificent sharks being slaughtered simply to get their fins, which are considered to be a sexual stimulant in Asia. She travels to Mexico to support the government's bold decision to place an annual moratorium on when sharks can be hunted- a decree that is already baring noticeable results. Stewart acknowledges that sharks can pose a danger, but she seems to be blissfully delusional about how erratic their behavior can be. In a dive with legendary Bahamian shark expert Stuart Cove, she is literally surrounded by deadly sharks as she confidently offers them food. As with all of these nature documentaries, the unsung heroes are the camera people who take the risk of photographing these remarkable scenes, yet never get appropriate credit.
The second episode is titled "Death Beach" and provides the obligatory balance between sympathizing with the plight of sharks and being scared to death of them. It's also the strongest episode on the DVD. The film follows the efforts of scientists to discover why a popular but remote beach in South Africa was the scene of five deadly shark attacks in as many years, with three of them occurring in one summer. There are well-done recreations of the attacks and interviews with witnesses. The scientists are seen attempting to catch and tag sharks in order to study patterns of travel and behavior. The episode is genuinely disturbing and will make you relieved that you survived stepping into your own bathtub.
The final episode is titled "Great White Code Red", which will be of primary interest to people with a scientific approach to the shark phenomenon. The show features shark experts indulging in a grisly autopsy of a Great White in order to further understand the many mysteries about this creature that have continued to elude us. The filmmakers deserved kudos for not pandering to the more shocking aspects of shark behavior, but at the same time, this restraint undoubtedly makes this the least engaging of the three episodes.
"Shark Collection" is a consistently interesting release that fulfills its main mission, which is to inform even while it entertains. Recommended viewing.
Vinegar Syndrome, the DVD label that specializes in rescuing obscure cult movies from oblivion, has released another grindhouse triple feature of 1970s erotica. All three features, contained on two DVDs, are hardcore and all recall period of time when, in order to see such fare, you had to sheepishly pay to enter a porn theater, hoping that anyone of influence in your life who might see you would be sitting in the audience themselves. Watching these oldies but goodies today, one is impressed by the fact that, even within the limited boundaries of the meager production values, some real attempts were made to tell legitimate stories. In that respect, the X rated feature films differed from the "loops", which merely consisted of ten minute reels in which everyone had to get down to business as quickly as possible.
The first film in this triple feature is "Cry for Cindy", which starred Amber Hunt, a pouty, baby-faced beauty who evidently made a bit of a splash when the film was made in 1976 (it begins with a placard thanking Hustler publisher Larry Flint for bringing his top centerfold to the attention of producers.) Hunt plays Cindy, a young woman who is living the high life in L.A. She drives an expensive car, lives in a luxurious apartment and even gets to fly private planes. However, the down side is that all of this is financed by her career as a high end hooker. The film delves into her psychological dilemma: she's addicted to her lifestyle but is increasingly appalled at how she earns it. She is used and abused by a brutal pimp who reminds her that he can toss her out into the street on a whim. Consequently, she becomes his personal sex slave. Her two best friends are more accepting of their fate as hookers. In a flashback sequence, we see how Cindy started as an innocent hair stylist who was helping to finance her boyfriend's way through medical school. Faced with insurmountable debt, she is lured into the life of a hooker without ever divulging this to her lover, who thinks she is suddenly earning big money by modelling. Cindy never warms to going to bed with unattractive men but learns to be the best in her profession, thus making herself a valuable commodity. As the story progresses, however, she becomes more depressed, leading to a rather somber and unexpected development. "Cry for Cindy" is quite ambitious in many respects: it shows a feminine point of view towards sexual exploitation, admittedly even while the actresses are sexually exploiting themselves. The script is literate and interesting and - dare I say it?- the acting is impressive for this genre. The sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination and are erotically filmed and the production values are fairly high, with numerous location sequences and even an original love song written for the opening credits. The film ranks high among the grindhouse sex flicks of the era. (The DVD set also contains a more mainstream, soft-core cut of the film).
"Touch Me" is another attempt to combine a literate script with hardcore sex. Filmed in 1971, the low-budget production is set in an institute where various young people have assembled to discuss and try to resolve their sexual issues. The setting is the private home of the doctor who administers the therapies, which seems to be an opening for low-brow comedy. Yet, the script plays it straight, offering fully developed characterizations and a cast that can actually act (even if the "doctor" is of the rather stiff, pre-"Airplane" Leslie Nielsen method school). The characters span such a spectrum of varying personalities with varying problems that you half expect to see Irwin Allen's name as producer. There's the guy who is insecure about his penis size. There's another guy who harbors rape fantasies. There's a bickering couple and a wife who is rather frigid- and of course, the prerequisite lesbian who feels compelled to get "cured" but ends up adding a few numbers of straight women to her black book. The sex here is more clinical-both cinematically and in a literal sense- as everyone learns to shed their inhibitions and express and enact their wildest fantasies. As with "Cry for Cindy", "Touch Me" is a very obvious attempt to present an erotic film that might be more appealing to female viewers. The dialogue is intelligent and the cast is talented enough to suspect some of them might have found legitimate success in the profession.
Rounding out the triple feature is "Act of Confession", a 1972 film that starts out as ambitiously as the other two entries in the set. The film opens with a rather poignant overview of the miserable conditions most people lived in during the Middle Ages. A narrator points out how particularly rough it was for women, who were mostly consigned to a slave-life existence as the wife of a peasant. Consequently, many young women sought refuge in convents, not particularly because of religious conviction, but simply to escape the drudgery of back-breaking daily life on a farm. The premise is fine and one wishes the producers had stuck with simply providing a documentary about the Middle Ages. However, sex is the name of the game here and we are soon introduced to a young nun who develops some nasty habits in the convent, getting it on with the other sisters as well as the most fortunate priest and altar boy in Europe. In what is undoubtedly the most controversial sequence, she is seduced by Jesus Christ, so if you're still griping about that old Scorsese film, here's a new one you can protest. Unlike the other two films in this set, this entry is about as erotic as a catechism class, with a leading lady so lifeless that the sex scenes border on necrophilia.
Although the films credit aliases for their directors, the DVD sleeve indicates they were actually all helmed by one Anthony Spinelli, who apparently was a legend in the industry back in the day- and improbably, was the brother of noted character actor Jack Weston. Spinelli's work is several notches above the norm for this genre and Vinegar Syndrome presents crisp, clean remastered transfers. Whether these types of films appeal to you or not, they do offer an undeniable cinematic time capsule into an era when the industry was shaking off the constraints of repressive censorship that had dominated popular culture for the entire century. I'd call this an impressive package, but given the subject matter, it would sound too much like a stale joke.
Many books have been written about
Hollywood Westerns. After 45 years, the
late William K. Everson’s “A Pictorial History of the Western Film” (The
Citadel Press, 1969) remains one of the best: a coffee-table book with
substance. Everson appropriately tips
his sombrero to John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Hathaway, and Howard Hawks (with
measured praise for “Red River”), and his comments on films spanning the history of the genre up to the
end of the 1960s, from “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) to “The Wild Bunch”
(1969), are incisive and thought-provoking. As a film scholar and preservationist, Everson was particularly
knowledgeable about older and often obscure movies from the silent and early
sound eras. Three of the classic titles
he highlights are worthy of his approval and deserve to be better known than
King Vidor’s “Billy the Kid” (1930) is slow
going at times, particularly if you’re accustomed to the frantic pace of modern
action movies. Nevertheless, as the
first major Hollywood dramatization of the Billy the Kid story, adapted from
Walter Noble Burns’ 1925 book, it’s certainly worth seeing. Everson praises the spare quality of the
deliberately tried to avoid the traditional MGM gloss; the photography is good,
but always naturalistic, the characters drab in their dress, the buildings
ramshackle, the streets dusty. It is a
long film and a slow one, with its main action sequence placed in the middle of
the film, so that it doesn’t even build to a climax as most Westerns do. Its script is frankly untidy, yet the film is
quite certainly the best and most convincing of all the Billy the Kid sagas.
is right about Vidor’s strikingly stark style, including Vidor’s use of rugged
outdoor scenes in which massive buttes and caves dwarf the actors, but he’s
wrong about the movie not building to a climax. Actually it does, although the dramatic climax isn’t the final
confrontation between Billy (Johnny Mack Brown) and Pat Garrett (Wallace
Beery!), that you might expect from 80 years of Billy the Kid cinema, and maybe
as Everson expected. It’s an emotional
climax instead of a violent climax: the next-to-last scene in the movie, in
which Billy, on the run, tries to keep his sweetheart Claire (Kay Johnson) from
sticking with him by telling her that he doesn’t love her, although it’s
poignantly clear to the viewer that he does. Vidor, Brown, and Johnson stage the scene with great tenderness.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t much of a
resolution between Billy and Garrett. The two never really face off, as you’d expect from other movies like
“The Left-Handed Gun” (1958) and “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (1973), which
remain marginally truer to historical fact. Just after the Kid returns to the heartbroken Claire and confesses that he really does
care, Garrett lets the outlaw ride away with her to freedom and a happy
future. Beery may seem an unlikely
choice to play Pat Garrett (although not the oddest: that would be Thomas
Mitchell in “The Outlaw” from 1946) , but the role is crafted to the actor’s
usual image as a soft-hearted roughneck, so it isn’t as clumsy a fit as you
From Billy the Kid to the O.K. Corral:
Everson called Edward L. Cahn’s “Law and Order” (1932) “[one] of the sound era’s most overlooked Westerns (and
one of its finest).” Walter Huston and
Harry Carey Sr. are terrific as Frame Johnson -- “the killin’est marshal in the West” -- and shotgun-toting gambler Ed
Brandt in this lean, black-and-white movie based on W.R. Burnett’s novel “Saint
Johnson,” with John Huston credited for “adaptation and dialogue.” Johnson (a thinly disguised Wyatt Earp), his
brother Lute, Brandt (the Doc Holliday of the story), and their pard Deadwood
drift into lawless Tombstone, where the rustling Northrup brothers ride
roughshod. The town fathers offer
Johnson the job of peace officer.
“Nope, I’m done with that,” the flinty Johnson says at
first. “All it’s gotten me is a trail of
dead men and a heap of enemies.” The
locals cagily change his mind by playing on his pride: “Pin Northrup’s bet a
thousand dollars that you won’t go up agin’ em.”
The dialogue is hardboiled, almost the only women-folk
in sight are the saloon floozies, and the script establishes a bleak,
fatalistic tone early on. Drifting,
Johnson and his companions match cards on the trail to determine whether to go
to Alkali or Tombstone; Brandt offhandedly votes for Tombstone and draws the
winning hand -- aces over eights, the cards that Wild Bill Hickok held when he
was murdered by Jack McCall. The
real-life events of the feud between the Earps and the Ike Clanton gang are
rearranged here so that the shootings and shotgun ambushes lead up to rather
than follow the showdown inside the “O.K. Barn,” staged by Cahn as a brutal,
running gunbattle around hay bales and horse stalls. A gangster movie from the same year, “The
Beast of the City,” co-scripted by W.R. Burnett and starring Walter Huston, ended
with the same sort of last-ditch, straight-up shootout between cops led by
Huston and mobsters led by Jean Hersholt as a gang lord modeled on Al Capone.
Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” (1912) has
been filmed at least five times. Everson
singled out the 1941 version, directed by James Tinling and starring George
Montgomery, as “that rare animal, a remake superior to at least some of its
predecessors. In less than an hour, it
packed in all of Grey’s complicated plot, managed to prevent the unusually
large number of characters from getting in each other’s way, offered plenty of
action and good locations and photography.” Montgomery as vengeance-driven gunman Jim Lassiter makes an impressive
entrance. Dressed all in black, he
prevents a gang of crooked vigilantes from whipping an innocent man by shooting
the whip in two. “You’re interferin’
with justice, stranger,” the ringleader snarls. “Takin’ a whip to a man ain’t justice,” Lassiter snaps back.
Grey’s novel villainized Mormons, led by the corrupt
Bishop Dyer, but the movie sidesteps religious controversy: in this version,
Dyer is a greedy judge (Robert Barrat) who attemps to intimidate Jane (Mary
Howard), a young ranch owner, into signing her property over to him. The judge’s main henchman is his son Adam,
played by Kane Richmond, whom pulp movie fans may remember better as the Spy
Smasher and the Shadow. Montgomery
anchors the film with conviction and charisma, and as Everson noted, William
Bruckner’s and Robert F. Metzler’s script keeps the gunfights, fistfights, and
chases coming at a rapid clip. This is a
movie that combines the simplicity and verve of the B-Western with the
accomplished acting and outdoor production values of an A-production.
“Law and Order” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” are
available in DVD-R editions on the collector’s market, and “Billy the Kid” has
been released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive Collection. For their quality and historical value, I
think all three films deserve proper restoration on Blu-ray and DVD, and I
suspect that William K. Everson would have agreed.
(the following review is of
the UK release of the film, on Region 2 format)
Behind the Lace Curtain: Soviet Spies in
Robert Tronson’s ‘Ring of Spies’
(aka ‘Ring of Treason’) is the 1964 film version of the true-life Portland Spy
Ring case. From the late 1950s until 1961 the five-strong ring passed secrets
to the Soviets from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland
in Dorset, ‘the most hush-hush joint in the country’. Bernard Lee – who is best
known for his role as James Bond’s M, played Harry Houghton, an ex-naval
officer who is shipped back from his post in Warsaw following a drunken
incident at an embassy party. Houghton is posted as a clerk at the secret naval
base at Portland and is approached by an agent from ‘the other side’ who
convinces him to commit treason and steal them ‘a few titbits’. Houghton befriends
his co-worker, Elizabeth Gee (played by Margaret Tyzack), whom Harry calls
‘Bunty’. In reality spinster Gee’s first name was Ethel. Pleased with
Houghton’s attention and fuss, the two begin courting and Houghton convinces
her to take ‘Top Secret’ documents from the safe. Gee thinks she’s helping US
intelligence to keep tabs on the Royal Navy, but their contact in London,
Gordon Lonsdale, is actually a Soviet agent.
Lonsdale (played by William
Sylvester, later of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’), masquerades as a jukebox dealer
in London, but in reality he takes the ‘borrowed’ documentation to antiquarian
bookseller Peter Kroger (David Kossoff) and his wife Helen. There, behind the
lace curtains at their bungalow at 45 Cranley Drive, Ruislip, Middlesex – inconspicuously
nestled in suburbia – the pilfered secrets are photographed, documented, then
sent behind the Iron Curtain, reduced to diminutive microdots which are hidden
as full stops in such collectable books as ‘Songs of Innocence’ by William
Blake. Houghton and Gee become wealthy for their sins, buying a bungalow and a
new Zodiac car. But their boozing and conspicuous generosity in local pubs
attracts attention. The police and secret service calculate that their joint
£30-a-week incomes don’t match their extravagant lifestyle. Their home is
bugged by an agent posing as a gasman and the spy ring’s full extent begins to
Anyone interested in rare
1960s British cinema and low-fi monochrome espionage is in for a treat with
this engrossing rendition of a fascinating true story. Told with the minimum of
flash and no distracting score (the only music is from record players, or odd
atonal data electronica) ‘Ring of Spies’ deserves to be better known. Bernard
Lee is well cast as the hard-drinking Houghton, who feels the world owes him
something and has no loyalty to ‘Queen and Country’, in sharp contrast to his M
character in the 007 films. Tyzack and Sylvester are also ideal for the roles
of timid spinster and ice-cold spymaster. The supporting cast is good, with Thorley
Walters as Houghton’s cheery commander, Winters, and familiar faces such as
Paul Eddington and Geoffrey Palmer present in the background. Edwin Apps plays
Blake, ‘a minor cog in the Middle East department’. One of my favourite 1960s
actresses, Justine Lord (Sonia in ‘The Girl Who Was Death’ spy spoof episode of
‘The Prisoner’) appears early in the film, as Christina, Harry’s lover in
Warsaw. Gillian Lewis played Harry and Bunty’s co-worker Marjorie Shaw, whose
beauty has earned her ‘Runner up, Miss Lyme Regis’. The realistic settings and
authentic filming locations – Chesil Beach, various London tube stations, the
Round Pond in Kensington Palace Gardens, the magnificent roof garden at the top
of Derry and Toms department store on Kensington High Street – ensure the story
is always interesting and the monochrome cinematography adds docu-realism to
the action. Interiors were shot on sets at Shepperton Studios.
Don’t expect 007, nor even
Harry Palmer, but the film’s depiction of low-key, cloak and dagger espionage
is edgily exciting, as the spies are tailed on English country roads and
suburbia by British agents disguised as builders, ‘News of the World’ newspaper
van drivers and nuns. This is a must for fans of 1960s Cold War spy cinema. The
story proves that fact is often much stranger than fiction. In reality, after
being sentenced to 15 years in prison each, Houghton and Gee were released in
1970 and married the following year.
This DVD release is part of
Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, a five-year project to release over
450 British films via a deal with Studiocanal. The project commenced in April
2013. ‘Ring of Spies’ is from British Lion and includes the original trailer (a
‘U’ rated trailer advertising an ‘A’ certificate film) and a gallery of publicity
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON UK AND TO VIEW ORIGINAL TRAILER
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
Mass. — Sept. 2, 2014 — For Immediate Release — Long-time film industry veteran Philip Elliott Hopkins announces the
launch of The Film Detective, which
distributes broadcast-quality, digitally remastered, classic programming for
television, DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and other digital platforms.
Hopkins plans to release 10-20 DVDs and Blu-rays each
month – as well as syndicate
worldwide through broadcast, VOD and all leading movie portals – beginning Sept. 4.
Additionally, the Massachusetts-based
company plans to launch a classic movie subscription service
on a VOD platform, featuring a veteran movie host, later in the fall (More
details coming soon).
Film Detective’s extensive library of more than 3,000 titles – which includesfeature films, television programming, foreign imports,
documentaries– are now being re-mastered for today’s
new media. All titles are transferred from original film elements and many will be
restored in HD. With original artwork
available for most titles, all releases will be available worldwide with
region-free DVD and Blu-ray release.
The initial slate of titles to be released
Bucket of Blood (1959), Angel and the Badman (1947), Beat the Devil (1953), Carnival of Souls (1962), D.O.A. (1950), Dementia 13 (1963), Dick Tracy’s Dilemma (1947), Go
for Broke (1951), Kansas City Confidential (1952), Love
Affair (1939), My Favorite Brunette (1947), My
Man Godfrey (1936), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Nothing Sacred (1937), Salt of the Earth (1954), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), Sherlock Homes: Dressed to Kill
(1946), Smash Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), The
Big Lift (1950), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962), The
Inspector General (1949), The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), The
Red House (1947), The Stranger (1946) and The Terror (1963).
Hopkins entered home video entertainment
in 1999 as vice president of Marango Films, an early home video distributor of
classic movies. He co-founded Film Chest in 2002, supplying a broad array of
broadcasters including Turner Classic Movies and American Movie
Classics, and home video companies including
VCI and Image Entertainment with classic films over
the next 11 years.
Commented Hopkins, “I’m thrilled to be launching an
exciting new initiative and look forward to bringing new life to many classics that
deserve to be restored and remastered. Our goal is to build an extensive
resource online for classic film enthusiasts and to develop a social media
network to communicate with fans around the world.”
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” (2014) is an interesting but
flawed movie, more successful in set-up than pay-off.
The great Cecil B. DeMille established the standard for
the old-school Biblical epic: a lot of spectacle, as much titillation as the
censors would allow, and a little homespun piety.Aronofsky takes a more ambitious tack,
combining Old Testament scripture, Jewish tradition, and Biblical Apocrypha to
explore weighty spiritual and philosophical issues.His backdrop is a stark antediluvian world of
volcanic crags and dry watercourses, from which the elaborate trappings of
classic spectacles like “Samson and Delilah” (1949), “The Ten Commandments”
(1956), and “Ben-Hur” (1959) are notably absent.
The descendants of Cain, led by their brutal king
Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), have scratched out a primitive industrial
civilization from their hardscrabble environment.They rail at the Creator (the script never
uses the word “God”) for having exiled Adam and Eve from Eden nine generations
before.“He cursed us to struggle by the
sweat of our brow to survive,” Tubal-Cain rages.“Damned if I don't do everything it takes to
do just that.”In contrast, the
descendants of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son, represented by Noah (Russell
Crowe), his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connolly), their three sons, and their
adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), respect “the Creator’s land” and try to
conserve its resources: “We only collect what we can use, what we need.”
Noah begins to experience visions of a deluge.Consulting his grandfather, Methuselah
(Anthony Hopkins), he intuits that the Creator, disappointed with mankind’s
cruelty and greed, intends to destroy His experiment with a Great Flood and
start over.Noah and his family are to
build an ark that will house a male and a female from each animal species.Animals, innocent of sin, will survive and
replenish the world after the waters recede.Noah initially believes that he and his family will be allowed to
survive too, as reward for having lived righteously.The Creator provides a forest from which Noah
and his family can harvest timber for the ark, helped by the Watchers, fallen
angels incarnated as stony giants: “We chose to try and help mankind and when
we disobeyed the Creator, he punished us. We were encrusted by your world. Rock
and mud shackled our fiery glow.”
The first part of the film, in which Aronofsky clearly
delights in presenting the visual and thematic details of his lost world, is
slow-moving but impressively imaginative.This is not history according to anthropology and geology, but
prehistory according to the accounts of the Fall and the first Patriarchs in
Genesis, as interpreted by Aronofsky.The only community shown in detail is a makeshift village that looks
like a squatters’ camp.Weapons are made
of crudely hammered iron.Clothing is
rough and stitched-together.Several
details, some obvious like the Watchers and others more subtle, reinforce the
viewer’s awareness that this is a different Earth pre-dating ours; look closely
and see what differences you notice.
Unfortunately, Aronofsky loses his exhilaration and
takes several dramatic missteps even before the Deluge arrives in fine CGI
scenes.Sneaking through Tubal-Cain’s
camp, Noah realizes (or decides) that he and his family are just as guilty of
sin in the Creator’s eyes as the despoilers are, and that they are not meant to
procreate either.When his son Ham
rescues a girl from Tubal-Cain’s followers and tries to flee with her to the
ark, Noah leaves her to her death.When
he learns that his adopted daughter is pregnant with Shem’s baby, he determines
to kill the child after it is born (“it’s not something I want to do, it’s what
I have to do”).Much of the latter part
of the film sinks into overblown melodrama as Noah and stowaway Tubal-Cain
fight in the ark, resentful son Ham simmers, and after Ila gives birth to not
one baby but two, Noah glowers and stalks toward them with a knife.His next actions as holds the blade over the
infants seem as arbitrarily motivated as his earlier epiphany.
It’s difficult to tell whether Aronofsky tried to load
the script with more philosophical freight than the dialogue and the running time
could bear, or whether his star simply lacked the range needed to convey the
complex emotions that the scenes call for.Crowe is sturdy enough in the sequences that play to his strengths,
principally those in which Noah stands down Tubal-Cain and supervises the
building of the ark, but those requiring a believable display of spiritual
conviction, tenderness, or a sudden transition from one to the other fall
flat.Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain
similarly comes up short of the high benchmark for Biblical movie villainy set
by George Sanders in “Samson and Delilah,” Peter Ustinov in “Quo Vadis” (1951),
Jay Robinson in “The Robe” (1953), Edward G. Robinson in “The Ten
Commandments,” and Herbert Lom in “The Big Fisherman” (1959), but he may have
done his best with what Aronofsky handed him.Anthony Hopkins enlivens the scenes that feature Methuselah, who wanders
into Noah’s story from a different chapter of Genesis in the way that
characters crossed over from one Book of the Old Testament to another in the
old DeMille epics.
The Blu-ray disc in Paramount”s Blu-ray, DVD, and
Digital HD combo offers crisp images and strong colors -- to the extent that
any colors emerge from the predominantly gray tones of the natural setting and
the brown tones of the characters’ clothing.There are three informative special features -- “Iceland: Extreme
Beauty” (Iceland provided the movie’s stony landscape),“The Ark Exterior: A
Battle for 300 Cubits,” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two by Two.”
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM AMAZON AND GET EXCLUSIVE BONUS CD WITH CHRISTIAN MUSIC INSPIRED BY THE FILM
British noir crime dramas of the Fifties go, The House Across the Lake (1954) is probably as good an example as
you could hope to dip into. The tale unfolds in flashback, related by our main
protagonist to another character (precisely who is not revealed until the final
reel), is embroidered with expositional narration and, though clichéd and not
in the least unpredictable, delivers atmosphere by the barrel.
film is an early entry on the CV of writer-director Ken Hughes (the arguable highpoints
of whose career, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
and Cromwell, remain perennial favourites,
whilst his latter-day offerings, Night
School and Sextette, are best
brushed under the proverbial carpet). Hughes scripted The House Across the Lake from his own source novel, “High Wray”,
and also commandeered the director’s chair. Nowadays understandably marketed as
a Hammer film, it’s actually the fruit of the company’s earlier incarnation
Exclusive Films. Nevertheless, it boasts enough familiar names from the
company’s later glory years to set Hammer fans’ pulses racing: Anthony Hinds
produced, Jimmy Sangster AD’d, Len Harris and Harry Oakes were among the camera
operators, Phil Leakey was on make-up duty and James Needs edited.
the height of a sultry summer, American author Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) has
rented a remote lakeside bungalow in which he hopes to overcome a bout of
writer’s block. After doing a favour for his neighbours from – you guessed it –
the house across the lake, Kendrick befriends the affluent but ailing Beverly
Kendrick (Sidney James). It’s transparent from the outset that tensions are
running high between Forrest and his younger trophy wife, serial adulteress
Carol (Hillary Brooke). With his writing career plummeting, Kendrick is
desperately short of money, so when an opportunity presents itself for Carol to
dispose of her husband, he is easily coaxed into complicity for a cut of her
inheritance. After all, Forrest is a dying man anyway – why not give nature a
little chivvy along?
a short, sharp 66-minutes, The House
Across the Lake is an entertaining little film and offers up solid
performances from its three leads. Whilst Nicol and Brooke were doubtless
drafted in to drum up interest Stateside (where the film was released with the
re-titling Heat Wave), the presence
of Sid James – yes, the aforementioned Sidney is indeed he in an early straight
role – will certainly be the key draw for Brit movie buffs.
has been issued on DVD in the UK as part of “The British Movie” collection – an
arm of Network Distributing – in a new digital transfer. Hammer completists
will snap this one up (indeed, due to Sid James’ participation, so will “Carry
On” completists), but it deserves to find a home with a broader audience and
hopefully with this worthy release it will do. The disc also includes a trailer
and a small gallery of poster art and lobby cards.
this reviewer, Terry-Thomas’s turn as dastardly Raymond Delauney in the 1960 Brit-com
School for Scoundrels remains one of
his finest. The actor’s effervescent personality gelled perfectly with the
penmanship of Stephen Potter to create an egotistical chauvinist you couldn’t
help but take a liking to. Just a year later, in 1961’s His and Hers, his portrayal of a similar cad is one of his weaker
turns and rapidly becomes tiresome. It’s all in the writing, folks.
His and Hers was the
penultimate film from Brian Desmond Hurst, whose moment in the sun was the
sterling 1951 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, featuring Alistair Sim in the
title role of Scrooge. Hurst, along
with writers Jan and Mark Lowell and Stanley Mann, hailed from a background in screen
drama, so comely was not the likeliest genre for them to tackle. The lukewarm
results are testimony to their folly.
adventurer – and author of the hugely successful “I Conquered…” series of books
– Reggie Blake (Terry-Thomas) returns from his latest escapade in the Sahara.
His past expeditions have all been stage-managed by his canny publisher Charles
Dunton (Wilfred Hyde-White); the sharks he fought in the Atlantic were rubber,
the igloo he inhabited in the Arctic had central heating. But this time the set-up
went wrong and so for his new book Reggie wants to do away with the fiction and
tell it as it really was. The problem is it’s boring. When Reggie adopts a
pompous stance and threatens to take the manuscript elsewhere, it causes
friction with both his wife Fran (Janette Scott) and Dunton. Shrewdly aware
that the public is eager for a new “I Conquered…” epic, Dunton conspires with
Fran to pretend to write a book
exposing her husband’s faux adventures – “I Was Conquered by a Middle-aged
Monster” – in the hope it’ll coax Reggie into delivering a book that will actually
sell. But Reggie proves more stubborn than either of them expects…
much hilarity ensues”, as they say. Except in the case of His and Hers, it doesn’t. As previously mentioned, Terry-Thomas’s
character isn’t very likeable. Unfortunately, rather damningly, neither are
Hyde-White’s or Scott’s. They’re all
objectionable. Thus the intended humour as husband and wife divide up their
house into “his” and “hers” areas falls flat. Their struggles to adapt to their
new roles – he on all levels of domesticity, she in her attempts to immerse
herself in the business of authorship – seldom elicit more than a tepid smile.
what are we left with? Not a lot. It there’s any fun to be derived here, it’s
in the form of a myriad of cameos from favourites of the big and small screen.
Kenneth Connor, Oliver Reed, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Marie Deveraux,
Francesca Annis, Joan Hickson – even a youthful William Roach – have all put in
appearances by the time the end credits roll. These cameos certainly lend His and Hers curiosity value, but
there’s regrettably little else for which one could recommend it.
a constituent in their “The British Film” collection, Network Distributing in
the UK have just released the film on DVD and (incredulously, given its
mediocre value) Blu-Ray too, though to be fair the crisp black and white print
is pristine. The only supplement offered is a short gallery of original FOH stills.
Mel Brooks' 1968 comedy classic The Producers was originally deemed unreleasable because of its tasteless content. It sat on a shelf for two years before finally seeing the light of day. When the movie hit theaters, critics praised it, Brooks won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and helped launch a major career for him in feature films. By 1974, tastelessness was not a barrier for Brooks' cinematic projects. Blazing Saddles, his insane send-up of the Western movie genre, came along at exactly the right time. Ten years earlier, the film would have been impossible to make. However, pop culture had matured light years between the mid-1960s and 1970s and so did audience's tolerance of envelope-pushing humor. Indeed, by the time Brooks brought this movie to the screen Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice had already shown the humorous side of swinging and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H made the Korean War a thinly-veiled, over-the-top comedic roasting of the seemingly endless conflict in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Brooks still had plenty of new ways to bring tasteless comedy to new highs (or lows). The "plot line" of Blazing Saddles is razor-thin. Cleavon Little is Bart, a hip black man who is tired of being used as a beast of burden by racist white employers. Through a plot device (don't ask!), he assumes the identity of a new sheriff of a small town. The reaction of the crowd and politicians when they realize their new law enforcement officer is a black man is still priceless in its hilarity. The sheriff encounters a wide variety of local eccentrics including Jim (Gene Wilder), an amiable gunslinger who assists him in thwarting a stock company of local bad guys.
As Brooks points out in a new interview in the set, Blazing Saddles is timeless. Indeed, it feels as fresh and funny today as it did in 1974. However, no one would ever dare make such a film today. In an industry preoccupied with "safe" concepts such as stupid movies about monsters and aliens, it would be all but impossible to find financing for a film that uses "nigger" as a punch line to every other joke. Forget the fact that it's the white racists who end up getting the short end of every stick and it's the black hero who is the only handsome, intelligent character in the story- the very concept would be deemed far too toxic for public consumption. However, we at least have Blazing Saddles to remind us of an era in which filmmakers and studios dared to gore sacred cows. The result was a period that saw some of the greatest achievements in the history of the medium. In terms of maturity, however, the industry has only regressed over the ensuing decades.
Warner Brothers has put together a Blu-ray that is appropriately packed with extras, most of which have been carried over from previous releases. These include a 2001 documentary in which Brooks and Wilder are interviewed separately about the making of the film and its legacy. Brooks originally wanted Richard Pryor, who co-wrote the script, to star as Bart but the comedian's erratic personal behavior scared the studio bosses. At one point Flip Wilson was considered for the role before Cleavon Little "wowed" Brooks in his audition. John Wayne was even asked to make a cameo appearance but the Duke correctly assumed that his audience wouldn't be very happy about his appearance in a movie laced with obscene jokes. There are also anecdotes about the sterling supporting cast of character actors including the inimitable Slim Pickens. Also interviewed is the late, great Harvey Korman, who comes close to dominating the film with a truly hilarious performance. Writer Andrew Bergman relates how amazed he was when Warner Brothers actually bought his script for the film, which he wrote on "spec". The set provides a new documentary in which Brooks is interviewed anew (he immodestly calls the film the greatest comedy ever made) and Gene Wilder is seen in recent footage from an interview at New York's 92nd Street "Y". There are also some interesting scenes that were deleted from the final print but which were apparently included in TV broadcasts of the movie. Most interesting is the half hour pilot episode of a proposed TV series from 1975 titled Black Bart with Louis Gossett Jr. playing the Cleavon Little role. Gossett is well-cast but the show is a lame concoction of weak racially-based jokes and cheap production values. It's inclusion here is most appreciated, however, for curiosity's sake alone. Rounding out the bonus extras are the original trailer, an audio commentary by Mel Brooks and a set of postcards with scenes and jokes from the film.
It must have seemed like a sure bet to adapt Elmore Leonard's book The Moonshine War into a film way back in 1970. MGM, then struggling to stay afloat, even signed Leonard to write the screenplay. The end result, however, is a mixed bag despite the impressive talent involved in the production. The movie is now regarded as a long-forgotten flop, the failure of which seemed to be ensured by a bizarre ad and poster campaign that featured an image of a generic hillbilly with a shotgun rather than emphasizing the cast. The film is set in rural Kentucky during the Prohibition era. Frank Long (Patrick McGoohan) is a corrupt federal agent who is ostensibly in the area to search out and destroy local stills. In fact, he is intent on finding the hidden liquor stash of Son Martin (Alan Alda), the reigning local kingpin of illicit booze. His intention is to force Martin to partner with him. When his hard-edged efforts fail to intimidate Martin, Long decides to call in two confederates- Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Richard Widmark), who uses his profession as a dentist to cover his gangster activities and Dual Matters (songwriter and singer Lee Hazlewood), his sadistic right hand man. Long's intention is to use some additional strongarm tactics to get Son to divulge the location of his still. However, Taubee -and especially Dual- prove to be bloodthirsty killers and their tactics result in torture and murder. Before long, Taulbee concedes even he needs reinforcements, despite the fact that the cowardly locals won't lift a finger to assist Son in his besieged cabin. Soon a small army of killers has descended on the property. This is too much even for Long, who sides with Son and his only ally, his farm hand Adam (legendary blues singer Joe Williams) who have only a few guns and their wits to stave off certain death.
The Moonshine War never reaches its full potential, though the eclectic cast makes it worth viewing. Richard Quine's direction is rather limp and uninspired and the central role of Son Martin is miscast with Alda in the lead. He doesn't seem remotely convincing as a hillbilly and gives a rather boring, half-hearted performance. Fortunately, the other cast members are a lot more lively with Widmark playing against type as an outrageous villain. He's in a perpetually jolly mood even when ordering the execution of innocents and he is accompanied by an Eva Braun-like dumb hooker, Miley (Susanne Zenor), who seems oblivious to the carnage being caused by her "beau". The real scene-stealer, perhaps improbably, is non-actor Lee Hazelwood, whose demented and murderous hit man is a truly chilling screen presence. McGoohan, who is also somewhat miscast, is never less than riveting to watch no matter what role he plays and there is a deft supporting turn by Will Geer in traditional Grandpa Walton mode.
Elmore Leonard's screenplay is somewhat erratic, ranging from cornpone country humor to outright sadism. Not helping matters is the inclusion of upbeat country western standards, a gimmick that seems inspired by the Bonnie and Clyde soundtrack. Here, however, the result seems more inappropriate than artistically inspired. Nevertheless, I enjoyed The Moonshine War for what it is- a consistently engrossing, entertaining vehicle that seemed to be custom made for the drive-in circuit of the era. Oh, and the final scene does pack an unexpected wallop.
maybe for Michael Caine and Ernest Borgnine, has any other actor ever starred
in more movies, ranging more widely from classic (“A Star Is Born,” “North by
Northwest,” “Lolita”) to cult (“The Pumpkin Eater,” “Cross of Iron”), to the
campy and B-level titles that partially rounded out the final two decades of
his career (“Bad Man’s River,” “Mandingo”),
than James Mason (1909-1984)?
releases from the Warner Archive Collection showcase Mason’s versatility in
mid-career films that could hardly be farther apart in theme and subject
Decks Ran Red” (1958) was one of Mason’s two collaborations with
producer/director Andrew L. Stone in the late ‘50s. Ed Rummill (Mason), a hardworking and
ambitious first officer on a luxury liner, is offered the command of the S.S.
Berwind, a merchant ship, after the previous captain unexpectedly dies. “You might be smart to pass this up,” one of
his superiors cautions, noting that the Berwind has a restless crew and a
troubled history. Rummill eagerly jumps
at the opportunity for advancement anyway. Presently, flying to the remote New Zealand port where the Berwind is
docked, his enthusiasm is dampened on
first sight of the ship: “As dirty, as miserable, as rusted-up an old tub as
I’d ever seen.”
dirt and rust are the least of his worries. Crewman Scott (Broderick Crawford), abetted by his crony Martin (Stuart
Whitman), begins to stir up mutiny even before the Berwind leaves port. Scott’s plan is this: after they put out to
sea, he’ll nudge the mutineers into killing Rummill and the other
officers. Then he and Martin in turn
will murder their fellow crewmen. Once
they dispose of the bodies, the two conspirators will partially scuttle the
ship and bring it in as an abandoned derelict, collecting a reward for
recovering the vessel: one million dollars, half the value of the Berwind and
its cargo. Further creating strife, a
beautiful woman comes aboard for the voyage (Dorothy Dandridge), the wife of
the new ship’s cook. Scott gleefully
figures that the presence of the “well-stacked doll” will ratchet tensions even
direction is so efficient and the sleek Mason and rumpled Crawford are so well
contrasted as the main antagonists that you’re tempted to overlook lapses in
logic and continuity as the movie proceeds. The ship’s routine appears so orderly and the crew so sedate that the
mutiny angle never really comes together. Stone seems to recognize about
halfway through that the narrative is about to stall, and so Scott abruptly
abandons the mutiny scheme, breaks out his stash of firearms, corners the
officers on the bridge, and with Martin’s help begins to pick off the other
crewmen. Rummill begins as a character
on a human scale, competent but fallible, but by the end of the movie, he’s
swimming across a choppy ocean and scaling the side of the ship like an action
hero for a final confrontation with Scott. Similarly, Dandridge’s character, Mahia, never quite seems to come into
focus either; calculatedly seductive one minute, scared and helpless the
next. An early scene suggests that she
will pose a sexual challenge to the happily married Rummill, as Mason muses in voiceover,
“It never entered my mind that the woman would be so sensuous and so exotically
beautiful.” But Rummill keeps hands off,
regarding her as more a nuisance on the already troubled ship than an object of
the movie is best enjoyed as the cinematic equivalent of 1950s men’s pulps like
“Male” and “Saga,” which marketed lurid tales of modern-day piracy, danger at
sea, and exotic sex as true stories. Mason’s voiceover narrative even has the same overheated prose
style: “There was a ship named the S.S.
Berwind. This is the story of that ship
. . . A story which actually happened .
. . A story of the most infamous, diabolically cunning crime in the annals of
maritime history.” The name “Ed Rummill”
is suspiciously similar to “Erwin Rommel,” Mason’s famous role in “The Desert
Fox” (1951); maybe Stone and Mason were having a little fun with the audience.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Sea Gull” (1968), an ensemble cast enacts Chekhov’s tragedy
of frustrated lives and misguided love in a circle of well-to-do landowners,
actors, and aspiring artists in late 19th Century Russia. Mason shares roughly equal screen time with
Simone Signoret, Vanessa Redgrave, David Warner, Harry Andrews, Alfred Lynch,
Denholm Elliott, and Kathleen Widdoes, but in a sense he’s first among equals.
He has top billing as Trigorin, a popular but second-rate novelist. He’s the subject of the first close-up in the
film in a brief, wordless scene added by Lumet and screenwriter Moura Budberg
that doesn’t appear in the original play. And the role of Trigorin is a pivotal one, whose actions lead to
calamity for two of the other characters in the final act.
laudable to see any attempt to bring classic literature to the screen,
especially these days, when the average person in the street, if asked to
identify Chekhov, probably would answer, “Isn’t he that guy from ‘Star
Trek’?” I give Lumet and his cast high
marks for ambition, even if they never quite surmount the challenge of translating
Chekhov’s complex, allusive work to the visual, kinetic medium of film.
basic problems, one relating to casting and the other to performance, beset the
movie. While Warner and Redgrave are
fine actors, they’re too old at 27 and 31, respectively, to play Chekhov’s
Konstantin and Nina. I knew lots of kids
like Chekhov’s Konstantin in my college literature and drama courses, bright
but immature 20-year-olds with mother fixations. At 27, Warner seems like a case of arrested
development. Likewise, it’s affecting
when Chekhov’s 17- or 18-year-old Nina attaches herself to the older Trigorin,
and you realize, even if she doesn’t, that her infatuation will not end well;
Redgrave looks like a woman in her twenties who should know better. Mason doesn’t present the same disconnect
between appearance and behavior, but he brings a misplaced sense of gravity to
the role of the faintly absurd Trigorin. The disreputable Mason of “The Wicked Lady” (1945) and “The Prisoner of
Zenda” (1952) would better have served the role.
Warner Archive Collection editions are bare-bones DVDs without chapter stops,
subtitles, or significant extras. “The
Decks Ran Red” includes the theatrical trailer. The black-and-white transfer is acceptable, and there’s a startling
visual in the title credit, where “Red” in “The Decks Ran Red” stands out in
bleeding crimson against the monochromic background. They do the same thing now in “Sin City” with
computers; how did they do it in 1958? The transfer of “The Sea Gull” is somewhat soft, muting the Technicolor
cinematography, but not objectionable. There are no extra features.
approached the 2013 Blu-Ray edition of André Téchiné’s “The Bronte
Sisters” (1979) with mild interest, which was mostly piqued by the powerhouse
casting of the three leading young actresses of 1970s French cinema -- Isabelle
Adjani, Isabelle Huppert, and Marie-France Pisier -- as Emily, Anne, and
Charlotte Bronte. Imagine a 2014 U.S.
film teaming Scarlett Johanssen, Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley. With vague memories of “Devotion,”
Hollywood’s melodramatic 1946 Bronte biopic, I was doubtful that the film
itself would be particularly compelling.
But I was pleasantly surprised.
Relating the formative events in the lives of the three sisters and
their brother Branwell (Pascal Greggory) in straightforward, episodic form,
Téchiné’s interpretation is first-rate: excellently acted, emotionally moving,
and visually striking with starkly beautiful cinematography by Bruno Nuytten on
the Yorkshire moors where the Bronte siblings lived their sadly short lives.
In a new documentary about the making of the film, included as
an extra on the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray, Téchiné recalls that he wanted
to stay true to the facts of the Brontes’ lives without speculation or
embellishment. Similarly, he “demanded a
certain austerity of acting” from the cast to complement the unadorned style of
the narrative. Beginning with a scene in
which Branwell, proud but also uncertain about his talent, unveils his painting
of his three sisters and himself, the movie proceeds to cover decisive moments in the siblings’ lives. Emily, a free spirit, capers on the moors in
boy’s clothing. Charlotte, the quietly
ambitious sister, convinces their aunt to lend money so that she and Emily to
go abroad to school. Anne, the dutiful
one, stays behind to take care of their father, aunt, and brother.
Initially, this approach seems a bit cold and distant, but as
the movie continues, it becomes clear that Téchiné’s decision was a wise
one. The unfolding vignettes are quietly
powerful in illuminating the close and sometimes contentious relationships
between the sisters. This
matter-of-factness pays off especially well in the later segments of the film. As one tragedy after another besets the
family, the scenes relating to the deaths of Branwell, Emily, and Anne are all
the more affecting because they aren’t amped up with banal dialogue and syrupy
background music. Téchiné is helped
immensely by the costuming, set design and cinematography (as he acknowledges
in the making-of documentary), which recreate mid-19th Century England in
A certain playful sense of humor surfaces occasionally,
leavening the bleakness of the story. When the sisters submit their first novels as Acton, Currer, and Ellis
Bell, speculation runs wild in the publishing world: are they the same person,
are they male or female, are they a man and a woman collaborating? Deciding it’s time to reveal the sisters’ true
identities, Anne and Charlotte travel to London to meet with their publisher in
person. “I am Currer Bell, and that is Acton,” Charlotte says quietly when she
and Anne appear unexpectedly in the publisher’s office. “We are three sisters. There is no man.” Pisier delivers the lines with perfect
Adjani, Huppert, and Pisier are luminous. Interviews in the making-of documentary
reveal that the actresses had a sometimes intense off-camera rivalry,
complicated by existing relationships with other people in the production
crew. (Téchiné and Pisier were friends;
Adjani and Nuytten were romantically attached.) It’s a measure of Téchiné’s talent and the actresses’ professionalism
that the three women convincingly project a sisterly bond of support and
affection, with perhaps the real-life rivalry only erupting strategically on
screen in scenes where the sisters’ love for each other is strained. I wish Patrick Magee (“Marat/Sade,” “A Clockwork
Orange”) had more to do as the head of the Bronte family, and his distinctive
voice is lost because his lines are dubbed in French by someone else, but
nevertheless his presence is used effectively if sparingly, Bronte purists will be pleased that he,
Téchiné, and co-writer Pascal Bonitzer portray the Rev. Patrick Bronte
sympathetically as a caring father and progressive clergyman, reflecting modern
scholarship that refutes earlier prose and film portraits of Bronte as a
addition to the making-of documentary, the Cohen Film Collection Blu-Ray
includes two trailers and an excellent audio commentary track by film critic
Wade Major and Bronte scholar Sue Lonoff de Cuevas. If you’re as unfamiliar with the subject
matter as I was, I might almost suggest that you listen to the commentary
before playing the movie, since Major and de Cuevas illuminate many details
about Bronte history and about the production aspects of the movie that
deepened my appreciation of the film. Although the making-of documentary doesn’t include Adjani or Huppert
(Pisier died in 2011), many of the other key cast and crew are
interviewed. This is an excellent
Blu-Ray package, highly recommended.
Now this is what you call a bargain: three terrific WWII flicks for only $10 on Amazon, courtesy of Shout! Factory's Timeless Media label, which continues to distribute first rate editions of films that were often considered to be second-rate at the time of their initial release. This "War Film Triple Feature" package includes three gems that were not particularly notable at the time of their release. Two have grown in stature, while the third has benefited only from Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes' enthusiastic coverage in issue #25. The films included in the set are:
"Attack" (1955)- During the period of WWII, both the Allied and Axis film industries concentrated on feature films that were pure propaganda designed to motivate their fighting men and the public at large. By the early-to-mid-1950s, however, more introspective viewpoints emerged among Hollywood directors and writers. With the conflict now over, the American military became fair game for criticism, though thin-skinned top brass would withhold official cooperation to productions that didn't pass their demands to show the Army or Navy in a positive light. Fred Zinnemann had to water down the script for "From Here to Eternity" from being a scathing indictment of military brass to making the villains a couple of stray bad apples who got their just comeuppance once the generals rode to the rescue of oppressed enlisted men. By 1955, director Robert Aldrich had emerged as a major new talent and had enough clout with the studios to thumb his nose at Pentagon demands when it came to developing his latest project, a controversial WWII script titled "Attack" (aka "Attack!"). Aldrich, who also produced the film, was denied use of military personnel and equipment when he refused to radically change the story. Instead, he focused on a small band of soldiers and laid out $1,000 of his own money to buy an old tank- the only "major" investment in this economical production. Ironically, by making the film on a relatively tiny budget, he succeeded in creating one of the most powerful military stories of its era. The film focuses on a company of battle-weary G.I.s who just lost a sizable portion of their unit when a mission went terribly awry. Lt. Joe Costa (Jack Palance) puts the blame squarely on his commanding officer, Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert), accusing him of cowardly behavior by failing to provide the men under his command with the backup support he had promised. When Cooney orders Costa and his men to occupy a farmhouse in a village that may be infested with the enemy, he makes similar problems to provide backup support should a firefight break out. Costa threatens to kill Cooney if he breaks his word again but Cooney remains unphased. Like the French officers in Kubrick's "Paths of Glory", he is a politically connected snob whose influence in social circles allows him to be protected by his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bartlett (Lee Marvin). Bartlett is repulsed by Cooney's cowardice but has political aspirations after the war and knows that, by coddling Cooney, his influential father can assure his being elected. When the mission goes predictably bad, Costa loses many men under his command and Cooney never provides the promised assistance. This leads to some of the most shocking developments ever seen in an American war movie and, indeed, the scenario that plays out is still rather traumatizing today as an enraged Costa enacts his plan of revenge. The ending of the film is so unlike anything seen in a Hollywood production that one is surprised the film wasn't consigned to sit unreleased on a shelf. As leading man, Jack Palance is acting with a capital "A" as he uses every nuance of the new "method" acting that was then all the rage. Still, he makes a powerful on screen presence. However, it is Eddie Albert who steals the show with a masterful performance as a sniveling, spoiled elitist. (The irony is that Albert was a real life war hero who was wounded during the D-Day invasion.) Lee Marvin is also excellent in an early career role and Robert Strauss provides the few laughs in the film as a blue collar Jewish soldier who is understandably paranoid about being captured by Germans. "Attack" is a terrific war movie- one that probably plays better today than it did at the time of its initial release.
"BEACH RED" (1967)- While Cornel Wilde primarily enjoyed a successful career as a reasonably popular leading man, he also showed considerable skill as a director. His 1966 African adventure film "The Naked Prey" was an impressive achievement on all levels. Wilde followed that film with "Beach Red", a 1967 WWII era story that seems to have intentional parallels with America's increasingly unpopular presence in Vietnam. Based on a novel written near the end of WWII, "Beach Red" is primarily a pacifist view of a "good war", that is a conflict that the Western democracies realized was necessary to avoid totalitarianism from dominating the globe. Wilde isn't interested in the big picture, however. His film concentrates on how war affects individuals, in this case a company of U.S. G.Is who must make a seemingly suicidal landing off an unnamed beach in the Pacific while under relentless Japanese fire. This opening sequence is quite harrowing and Wilde does an excellent job of handling the logistics. (He had the cooperation of the Philippine government in return for filming there, thus had actual soldiers available as extras for the battle scenes.) The gruesome close-ups of wounded and dying Americans caused a bit of a stir in critical circles back in the day but Wilde deserves credit for showing an aspect of war that went beyond the standard Hollywood "Gung Ho!" treatment of men in battle. The opening sequence also blends in real battle footage, but as was generally the case with this tactic, the grainy newsreel footage is a rather awkward match for the crisp, clean work of Wilde's cinematographer Cecil R. Cooney. The screenplay was quite offbeat for the era. The action moves back and forth between American and Japanese lines in an attempt to humanize both sides. This wasn't an entirely unique premise. David Lean had made the Japanese commander a three dimensional character in his 1957 classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Frank Sinatra- in his only attempt at directing- humanized Japanese troops in his 1965 film "None But the Brave". Nevertheless, presenting "the other side" as something other than comic book cliches gives "Beach Red" a mature, interesting outlook on the war in the Pacific. The only other "name" actor in the film is Rip Torn as Wilde's hard-boiled second-in-command who has a tendency for sadism. Wilde gets a bit artsy by blending in flashbacks envisioned by both American and Japanese soldiers as they mutually dream of their wives and families back home. Some of these sequences are set to a pacifist-themed folk song and proves to be effective in conveying some real emotion when a character meets a grisly demise. There is a disjointed feel to the film, as though Wilde seemed to have a strong message but didn't know how to quite wrap it all up in a single package. Nevertheless, "Beach Red" remains an underrated, bold film that displays Wilde's talents both in front of and behind the camera.
"ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST" (1968)- As mentioned previously, Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes covered the making of this relatively low-budget 1968 WWII film in issue #25 and extolled its virtues. "Coast" was one of numerous small-scale wartime movies filmed in England in the late 1960s that turned out to be highly entertaining, well-scripted, directed and acted. "Coast" is one of the best of the bunch, most of which were produced by Oakmont Productions and released by United Artists, often as the lower half of double bills in the United States. Lloyd Bridges, in a rare starring role in a feature film, plays Major Jamie Wilson, a man who is haunted by a botched major military operation that resulted in 3/4 of his command being killed. He is at odds with Captain Franklin (Andrew Keir), an equally hard-nosed officer whose son was killed in the ill-fated operation. Both men blame each other for bungling the mission and there is genuine hatred between them. To redeem himself, Wilson devises another elaborate, highly dangerous mission- this time to send a small group of commandos into Occupied France to destroy a dockside refueling station that the Germans consider crucial for continuing to wreak havoc on Allied naval forces. Predictably, Wilson and Franklin are assigned to spearhead the mission despite their mutual dislike for each other. Wilson's relentless training for the operation results in his getting a reputation as a Captain Bligh-like figure, despite the fact that at home, he is a devoted husband to his wife Sue (Sue Lloyd) and his young son Jimmy (Mark Ward). Wilson's plan involves disguising a vessel as an enemy boat and sailing unobstructed near the French port where frogmen will swim to the dock and destroy key installations. The German commander (Walter Gotell) is fortunately preoccupied with an easy lifestyle of watching stag movies, smoking cigars and drinking fine liquors. The early stages of the operation prove to be successful- but then things start to go wrong. Director Paul Wendkos, who also helmed the Oakmont production "Hell Boats", does a good job of wringing a lot of suspense out of the intelligent script. He's helped by the fact that both Bridges and Keir (a Christopher Lee type with a strong screen presence) both deliver excellent performances. The low budget is evident in the use of miniatures in the battle sequences, but overall, "Attack on the Iron Coast" is a first rate "B" movie. Highly recommended.
have to be honest and admit that my entry point for the Women In Prison film
genre was at the sleazy end of the spectrum. I caught the grubby little Linda
Blair movie Chained Heat (1983) on cable in my long ago youth and was suitably
appalled – appalled enough to watch it in stunned horror at least three more times.
So as I grew older and saw more of these types of movies my idea of what a WIP
film would or could be became solidified around the 1970s and 80s version of
the genre. I'm sure you'll forgive me if I thought that they were little more
than delivery mechanisms for visions of various forms of lesbian sexual
activity, shower room violence, petty torture acts and other harsh bits of
business. Yeah, yeah- the occasional film might make noises about reforming the
horrible conditions on display but mostly the filmmakers were just wallowing in
gratuitous exploitative excess in the name of making a buck. Not that there is
anything wrong with that, in my opinion. But imagine my surprise when I first
encountered older WIP moves that couldn't fall back on showing a shower roomful
of naked, large-breasted ladies. What would be the draw? Wouldn't the lack of
such graphic elements cripple the film? What the hell is this? A film about
women locked up in a prison that actually has a good script? How did this
(1950) tells the sad story of 19 year old Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker). She has
been sentenced to a stretch in prison because of a bungled armed robbery
committed by her husband who was killed during the act. She insists that she
had nothing to do with crime but she was convicted as an accessory
nevertheless. To make matters for her worse, her prison entrance physical
determines that she is two months pregnant meaning she will give birth while
incarcerated. Marie has trouble adjusting to the harsh world of the women's
prison and struggles to find people she can trust. She meets professional
shoplifter Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) who says once Marie gets out, Kitty will
get her a job in her line of work. Kitty recruits for organized crime on the
outside and promises the young girl an easy life if she learns this criminal
trade. Marie does not want to get involved in crime, but Kitty explains the
realities of prison life clearly and events prove the 'booster' right. It is
explained to her that she can be paroled after nine months, but over time Marie
sees prisoner after prisoner being granted parole but then not released from
jail because no job has been arranged by their parole officers. After one such
prisoner kills herself the reality of her situation begins to become
apparent. Adding to her despair is the sadistic matron Evelyn Harper (Hope
Emerson) who decides to single Marie out for attention when she refuses to play
along with her money making schemes. By the time Marie gives birth to a healthy
baby and is forced by the state to grant full custody to her mother she has a
small bit of hope that she will be granted a parole to be with her child. But
when her mother gives the baby up for adoption against Marie's will she snaps
and makes a feeble try at escape.
many films of the genre, the prison in Caged has an authority figure that is
actually sympathetic to the plight of the ladies under her care. The great
Agnes Moorhead plays Ruth Benton, the reformist prison superintendent trying to
get evidence against the cruel Harper while simultaneously attempting to help the prisoners find a pathway out of
their dead end lives. Benton is as lenient with Marie as she can be but soon
she has to punish her when her actions become less justifiable and more like
her more hardened cellmates. When the now toughened Marie emerges from a moth
in solitary she finally takes violent action against Harper and shows that she
has given up hope of following the straight a narrow path to parole. She's
going to get out of prison no matter what she has to do once she is on the outside.
I might have expected the reformist slant taken by this film, I wasn't
expecting a 1950 movie to be so daring in talking about the nastier aspects of
prison life. All the mean spirited subjects that I have come to expect from
later entries in the genre are here. Yes, they have to turn away from
gratuitously showing the lesbian relationships and vicious violent acts but
those events are in the story and not hidden behind the prudish restrictions I
expected. This is a classic social commentary film and it firmly places the
blame on the prison system for turning Marie into a career criminal but it
still manages to show that she chooses the easiest way out of her predicament. I
was surprised by the ending of this movie and pleased by its high quality
across the board. Caged is a very good film regardless of what you might think
of prison stories and this might be the film to introduce new viewers to Women
In Prison movies. It gives a sense of the unforgiving nature of the genre while
saving the harder stuff for later.
Caged! is a available through the Warner Archive. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer. Click here to order.
The Warner Archive has released the classic 1956 film noir Ransom! as a burn-to-order title. The film is a textbook example of minimalist production values being overshadowed by a strong, intelligent script (co-written by future 007 scribe Richard Maibaum) and excellent direction, courtesy of Alex Segal. Glenn Ford plays Dave Stannard, a highly successful owner of a major vacuum cleaner company. He lives an idyllic home life with his devoted wife Edith (Donna Reed) and their 8 year-old son Andy (Bobby Clark). Suddenly their peaceful, quiet life is sent into a tragic spin when Andy is kidnapped by persons unknown. Stannard alerts the local police chief and soon his house is swarming with cops while outside a circus-like atmosphere develops as ghoulish neighbors gather to sniff out any updates in the case. For long agonizing hours Stannard doesn't receive any word until the inevitable phone call comes in demanding that he get a $500,000 ransom together. Stannard uses his influence as a highly respected local businessman to get the local bank to provide the money in the exact denominations required. He and Edith are convinced that by paying the ransom, Andy will be returned safely. However, the police chief (Robert Keith) and a local reporter (Leslie Nielsen) break the sobering news to him that, by paying the ransom, he is probably ensuring his son's death. Stannard rethinks his strategy and goes on local television with a direct address to the kidnappers: if they release Andy no harm will be done and if they are ever arrested he will plead for leniency for them. However, he becomes increasingly enraged as he informs them of the alternative: they will never get the ransom money because he intends to use it as a reward to bring them to justice- "dead or alive". In a superbly written sequence, Stannard addresses the unseen villains and tells them that with the $500,000 reward hanging over their heads, they will never know a minute's peace. They will suspect everyone around them, including each other, of being a potential sell-out. Edith, who is emotionally shattered, is outraged at Stannard's strategy. In fact, virtually everyone is against him, callously accusing him of valuing money over the life of his son. However, Stannard holds firm in the belief that every ransom paid ensures a future kidnapping. With his marriage crumbling, his own brother publicly criticizing him and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Stannard begins to question the logic of his controversial strategy.
Director Segal milks considerable tension out of this scenario and goes against the grain of the conformist 1950s by presenting both the police and the press in a rather cynical light. The chief tries to be helpful and is sympathetic to Stannard but lets slip that his every decision is motivated by political implications. He also has to resort to helping himself to Stannard's liquor cabinet in order to cope with the crisis. Similarly, Nielsen's streetwise reporter adds to Stannard's misery by threatening to leak the story unless Stannard promises him exclusive access to his home once the news does break. The script also avoids an obvious cliche by not identifying who the culprits are. Their identities become irrelevant, as this is about one family's trauma and their personal reactions to it. The actors are all first rate with Ford, not always the most exciting of screen presences, giving what may well be the most intense performance of his career. The premise of the movie has had impressive durability. This film was based on a TV drama and in the 1990s it was remade by Ron Howard in a big budget version starring Mel Gibson. However, Alex Segal's version remains, in many ways, the most enduring. It's precision, economical filmmaking at its best.
The DVD contains the original trailer.
Click here to order from the Warner Archive and to view a preview clip.
Twilight Time has released yet another excellent film as a limited edition (3,000 unit) Blu-ray release. The Roots of Heaven was made in 1958, directed by John Huston and based on a novel by Romain Gary, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like many of the movies the video label makes available to retro film fans, this is a very interesting production that might otherwise have escaped your attention. Such was the case with this writer. I had heard of the movie but knew nothing about it until I popped a review disc in my Blu-ray player. The first impressive aspect is the cast: Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Orson Welles in one production? Irresistible. What is truly fascinating about The Roots of Heaven is its politically progressive point-of-view, an urgent plea for conservation and care for animals and the environment during an era where this was hardly populist fare. Howard is cast as Morel, a charismatic but eccentric Englishman living in French Equatorial Africa. Morel is on a one-man crusade to stop the wholesale killing of elephants by poachers and thrill seekers. He goes through official channels in an attempt to get influential politicians to join his cause and pass conservation laws, but he is mocked and dismissed as a crazy man. Aghast and disgusted by the colonial European's disregard for the land and its animals, Morel turns up the heat, recruiting a small band of confederates with whom he wreaks havoc on the local hierarchy. As Morel turns to increasingly desperate and violent tactics, he becomes the nation's most wanted man. His motley gang includes Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a courageous but perpetually drunken hotel owner and Minna (Juliette Greco), a glamorous and fiercely independent local hooker who has survived being forced into prostitution in Nazi bordellos. Together, the group begins to gain international fame, especially when their exploits are broadcast worldwide by a famed radio announcer (Orson Welles) who they initially disgrace, but who comes to admire their courage and determination. With fame, however, comes danger, and before long the small band of heroes find themselves under increasingly difficult circumstances as the reward money for their capture grows. Undeterred, they soldier on, continuing to harass poachers and government officials alike until their efforts win them international support. It all comes to a head in a harrowing climax that pits the conservationists against a particularly brutal band of hunters who are intent on slaughtering a large number of elephants in order to get the all-important ivory.
The production was the brainchild of legednary Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, who had temporarily left the studio to become an independent producer. The Roots of Heaven is such a fine film that it's puzzling why retro film scholars and academics continue to overlook its virtues. The movie's troubled production history may have something to do with it. Huston originally intended to cast William Holden as Morel, but when that fell through, he went with Trevor Howard. Aware that Howard was anything but a matinee idol, Huston reluctantly rewrote the part to make the implied romance between his character and Minna more paternal than sensual. Huston also griped that the film was rushed into production, thus resulting in many artistic compromises being made. The shoot itself was hell, with the cast and crew enduring temperatures that routinely caused people to faint from heat exhaustion. What emerged, however, was a film that remains impressive on many counts. Howard reaffirms his status as one of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation. He is stern, stubborn, and yet sympathetic in his quixotic quest to bring appreciation of nature to the tone deaf bureaucrats who could end the slaughter of magnificent animals with the stroke of a pen. A weathered, but still dashing Errol Flynn gets top billing, but he's largely relegated to window dressing in what is clearly a supporting role. Still, he exudes plenty of the old charm and charisma in what would be his second-to-last film. The biggest surprise is the performance of Juliette Greco, who was cast primarily because she was Zanuck's mistress du jour. In the informative DVD booklet by Julie Kirgo, she relates that Greco despised Zanuck and routinely mocked him behind his back. Yet, unlike some of Zanuck's arm candy, Greco possessed not only glamor but real acting ability, inveighing the time worn character of the sympathetic hooker with pathos. It's truly a pity that major stardom did not follow. The film benefits greatly from Oswald Morris' magnificent cinematography and the fact that Huston, as he did on The African Queen, eschews studio shots as much as possible to maximize exotic locations. (There is real irony in that Huston's main motive for making Queen was said to be his obsession with hunting and killing an elephant. In The Roots of Heaven, he directs a story that deplores such behavior). There is also a rousing score by Malcolm Arnold that channels some key ingredients from his compositions for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Kudos to Twilight Time for once again saving a terrific film from cinematic oblivion.
the early half of the 1970s – post his final (official) stint as 007 – Sean
Connery made an eclectic array of script choices, ranging from the highly
astute (The Offence and The Man Who Would Be King, both of which
rank among his finest screen work) to the, er… questionable. (Yes, Zardoz, I’m looking at you). 1974’s
political potboiler Ransom (U.S. title: The Terrorists) falls somewhere
little more than a clutch of television works to his prior credit, Finnish
director Caspar Wrede wouldn’t seem to have been the most obvious choice to
helm a big screen thriller with a bone fide international superstar headlining,
and the plodding result does somewhat corroborate its director’s roots.
story picks up in the wake of a series of bomb attacks on London, and finds a
group of terrorists holding hostage the British ambassador to Scandinavia.
Meanwhile, a separate team led by Petrie (Ian McShane) have hijacked a British
plane on the icebound runway, Petrie’s intent being to whisk his comrades and
the ailing ambassador out of the country. Failure of the officials to comply
will result in the plane, along with its passengers and crew, being blown sky
high. It falls to Scandinavia’s head of security Tahlvik (Connery) – renowned
for his refusal to negotiate with terrorists – to intervene.
Connery’s magnetic screen presence as the hard-as-nails security chief coupled
with fresh-faced Ian McShane’s lively turn as the urbane terrorist who may not
be all that he seems keep things ticking along reasonably well, and director
Wrede generates sporadic moments of suspense during the opponents’ strategic
play-offs. The Norwegian locations offer up some terrific vistas for
Oscar-winning Swedish cinematographer Nils Nykvist to train his lens on (an
aerial pursuit through snow-dappled mountains is breathtakingly noteworthy) and
Jerry Goldsmith delivers a serviceable score, albeit one of the less memorable
in his vast oeuvre.
beyond this, I’m afraid, Ransom is
very much routine fare. It doesn’t help that the script confines Connery – indisputably
the picture’s biggest asset – to an office, treading water as he orchestrates
attempts by others to outwit the terrorists; he should be out there on the ice
himself, getting his hands dirty. By the time he steps into the fray at the
climax it’s a case of too little too late.
Distributing have issued Ransom on
DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK as part of their ongoing “The British Film”
collection. The new HD transfer looks tremendous (so clean, in fact, that it
gives the game away in a couple of instances where still images have been
inserted in lieu of live action footage) and the release is rounded out with a
pair of original release cinema trailers and a respectable gallery of stills
and poster art.
Turn on the news these days and it’s hard to avoid the
conclusion the world is in pretty bad shape. Wars and unrest in the Middle East
and Eastern Europe, passenger planes shot out of the sky, deadly viruses with
no cure, the government spying on their own people, terrorist bombings, mass shootings
in schools, tornadoes ripping people’s homes apart, drone attacks. No sooner is
one disaster over than another begins. Times are weird and chaotic. It’s almost
as though the cable news channels aren’t broadcasting the news so much as
they’re showing episodes out of an old movie serial cliffhanger.
Anyone remember those 20 minute chapter plays that ran
week after week before the Saturday matinee double feature at neighborhood
theaters? They showed up later on TV in the fifties. They were usually based on
comic strips that were popular back in the 1930’s, featuring characters like
Buck Rogers, Ace Drummond, Jungle Jim, and Tarzan.
Perhaps the best of the cliffhangers were the three
produced in the 1930s by Henry McCrea for Universal, featuring Alex Raymond’s comic
strip character Flash Gordon. Created by the Hearst Syndicate to compete with
Buck Rogers, Flash wasn’t like today’s superheroes. He didn’t have special
powers. He couldn’t fly, or have bullets bounce off his chest. In fact, before
the word came under attack by Ming the Merciless, he was just a polo player.
But when disaster struck, he was able to rise to the occasion and save the
There were three Flash Gordon serials released by
Universal. “Flash Gordon” was first in 1936. In this one Ming, Emperor of the
planet Mongo (Charles Middleton), is steering his planet directly into the
orbital path of the earth. Flash, (Olympic swimming star Buster Crabbe), Dale
Arden, (the beautiful Jean Rogers) a woman he meets on a plane shot out of the
sky, and Dr. Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) fly to Mongo in a spaceship that
Zarkov designed. It took 12 episodes and four hours of actual viewing time, but
our heroes finally prevailed. Or at least thought they did.
“Flash Gordon” was followed in 1938 by “Flash Gordon’s
Trip to Mars” in which Flash, Dale and Dr. Z discover that Ming isn’t as dead,
as he appeared at the end of the first serial. They take him on again, this
time on Mars, where Ming is assisted by the mysterious Azura, Queen of Magic.
Finally in 1940, McCrea produced “Flash Gordon Conquers
the Universe.” In this chapter play, the earth’s population is being decimated
by a plague known as The Purple Death. No surprise to learn that Ming once
again survived his supposed death at the end of the last bunch of episodes and
is behind the mysterious disease.
McCrea had a very convincing method of setting up each
of these serials, by opening the story with newsreel footage of wars,
earthquakes, and riots in the streets. Watch the beginning of any of them, and
except for the black and white photography, you’d swear you’re watching the news. The chaotic world
of the Flash Gordon serials strongly resembles our world today. So where is
Flash now, when we need him the most?
Fortunately he’s readily at hand, at least on DVD. Last
year Image Madacy Entertainment released a dandy little set of all three
serials titled “The Complete Adventures of Flash Gordon”. It comes not in a box
but in a three-way fold-out album that has a cover featuring a collage of the
main characters. There’s a 24-page booklet in the fold-out with some of Alex
Raymond’s original artwork for the Sunday newspaper comic strips. In addition, there’s
text giving some background info on the characters that appear in the comics
and in the serials—not anything new for old time fans, but a nice introduction
for anyone new to this space opera.
As for the serials themselves, some may think they’re
quaint with space ships that look like household appliances with sparklers
attached, magnified gila monsters for dinosaurs, and a guy in a gorilla suit
with a horn glued on his head. But there’s an underlying story in all three
serials that is probably worth watching again during these times. Like our
world, the planet Mongo was a world divided against itself. Lion Men battled
Hawkmen, The Hawkmen fought the Sharkmen, Frigia is attacked by Autobots sent
by Ming. All these tribes and races, in fact, are at war with each other mainly
because Ming manipulates and controls them. It’s Flash who arrives and makes
friend with each of these groups, and then unites them in friendship to defeat
the evil emperor. It’s sort of a triumph of cultural diversity.
The video and sound quality of the DVDs is good, but
not great. There’s been no effort to restore the seventy year old film stock,
so there are lots of scratches and dust, but for the most part the serials are
very watchable. You can buy them on the Internet for around 10 or 11 bucks. I
highly recommend this collection. It’s a great antidote to the news.
It’s not that I have any compelling evidence, but I
find it more fun to believe than to not believe. Of all the skeptics I’ve known, none have
been fun at a party. Give me a roomful
of believers, and I can almost guarantee a nicer bunch of people, not to
mention tastier stuff at the buffet.
Watching The Life
After Death Project, a 2- disc DVD
set collecting a pair of made for TV documentaries that aired on ScyFy last
year, didn’t sway me one way or the other, but I look forward to more by
director Paul Davids. I watch a lot of
documentaries, and most of them eventually lapse into cuteness or
self-indulgence. A lot of them are 90
minute selfies. Davids won me over
because he simply allows people to talk, to describe what they’ve experienced.
He doesn’t bother with cheesy recreations, and doesn’t try to scare us. What
Davids does is create a mood as if we’re sitting around a campfire telling
stories. What’s better than that?
Disc one is the winner. It’s about Davids’ relationship
with Forrest J Ackerman, the editor and publisher of Famous Monsters of
Filmland, a fun magazine that had a curious impact on a certain faction of male
children born after 1955. Davids knew
Ackerman, and is convinced that his old friend and mentor is haunting him.
Davids interviews some other people from Ackerman’s circle, and they, too, have
experienced odd happenings that suggest a possible close encounter of the Forry
kind. Apparently, the man known to his closest admirers as “Uncle Forry” still
enjoys a good practical joke, even from beyond the grave.
Where the movie really kicked in for me was when Davids
enlisted the help of various psychics. The trio, all female, each took a crack
at speaking to Ackerman. The outcomes were fascinating. One psychic in
particular described Ackerman perfectly. I’m aware that the psychic scenes could’ve
been rigged in the editing, but so what? I was entertained, which is a rarity
these days. And if Ackerman’s friends say that he visits them in their dreams,
I’ll take them at their word. (After all
the money I spent on FMOF back in my childhood, I’m expecting a visit, too.
Forry, if you’re out there, I’m in Rockport MA, and I usually go to bed around
1:00 AM. Stop on by.)
Davids was obviously very passionate about the Ackerman
story, so disc two suffers a bit in comparison. It's mostly a series of talking head sequences where various people
discuss the subject of life after death. Even though it’s not as fun as the
first disc, some of disc two is quite interesting, particularly when Davids
talks to nurses and hospice care workers who have some amazing stories to tell.
There are allegedly some extra features on the first
disc, including some interviews with Ackerman and more spooky talk, but they
weren’t on my reviewer’s copy. Perhaps
this was another of Forry’s post life practical jokes.
For a better understanding of Forrest J Ackerman’s
life, you could do worse than watch Uncle
Forry’s Ackermansions, now on DVD from Novemberfire.com. It’s a 70 minute labor of love from November
Fire founder Strephon Taylor and Tom Wyrsch, combining a lot of home movies,
plus some old interviews where Forry sat
with Northern Ca. horror host Bob Wilkins to tell stories about Boris Karloff,
Peter Lorre, and others.
Ackerman was the original fanboy. He created science fiction fanzines,
organized fan clubs, amassed what is probably the largest collection of sci-fi
and horror memorabilia in the world, and was eventually hired by publisher
James Warren to helm Famous Monsters of Filmland. He had a generous side, often opening his
home to the public, allowing other fans to come in and enjoy his
What drives a collector? Is it a kind of gluttony? Does
it stem from adolescent desire to have more than the other kids? Is at
overcompensation for something lacking in a person's life? I’ve known some
collectors, and their tunnel vision can be off-putting. A few are downright unhinged. A study should
be done. Unfortunately, this particular documentary doesn't tackle any serious
questions about the inner-workings of obsessive collectors. It's just a fun
jaunt through Ackerman's various homes.
Ackerman is at his most likable when he talks of his
1920s childhood, when he attended as many as seven movies in one day. He sounds
humble when he discusses how he fell in love with “fantastic films,” and even
as an old man he still seemed smitten by the robot from Metropolis. Those years must have had a profound impact on him, for
he spent the next five decades trying to relive them. This is the Ackerman I wish I had known, the
one I might have called “Uncle.”
Scorpion has released the complete version of the 3-part 1978 mini series "The Dain Curse" as a double DVD set. The show has a checkered history in terms of home video. A truncated version was available for a while on VHS, then Image released the full three episodes on DVD. Now Scorpion has done the same and the quality of the set is very good, capturing the relatively rich production values of the series. Those of us of a certain age can remember when the major networks put a great deal of time, talent and financial resources into mini-series. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of these shows constituted "must-see" TV. In an age in which the average household didn't have video recorders, some shows were so special that people altered their lifestyles to ensure they could catch each episode. Today, those days seem long gone, with network TV now a haven for trashy game shows, indistinguishable cop show and so-called "reality shows", most of which don't bear any resemblance to the world most of us live in. To top it all off, even if you are inclined to indulge in this fare, you have to sit through such a mind-numbing number of commercials, you'll probably forget where the story left off before the last break. The good news, of course, is that magnificently entertaining mini-series are still thriving. The bad news is that you have to pay even more to watch them via "premium" cable TV channels. "The Dain Curse" was produced smack in the middle of the prestige craze of the 1970s when TV networks tried to outshine each other in terms of producing acclaimed mini-series. Unfortunately, this series, despite a promising concept, falls far short of the mark.
The story, set in 1929, is based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, ordinarily a good source for a film noir production. Robert Mitchum had gotten the formula right a couple of years before with his portrayal of Philip Marlowe in "Farewell, My Lovely". Coburn would seem to be an appropriate leading man for another Hammett protagonist, private eye Hamilton Nash. However, whereas Mitchum looked sleepy, worn-out and perpetually pissed off, Coburn looks too much like a movie star. He's immaculately attired and supremely self-confident. He does suffer the fate of all noirish detectives: he makes the occasional misjudgement that sees him beaten and battered, but for the most part Coburn is a bit too Hollywood to ever convince you that he's an employee of a private eye agency. Nonetheless, even miscast Coburn is a joy to watch, especially as he trades wisecracks with cops, crooks and dames. The problem with "The Dain Curse", however, is that there are far too many of all these characters. The plot is overly-complex and virtually impossible to follow. It opens with Nash investigating the alleged robbery of some diamonds from the home of a rich, middle-aged couple. In the process, Nash suspects there never was a robbery and begins to unravel the reasons for the staged crime. In the process, he meets the couple's daughter, a twenty-something beauty named Gabrielle, who turns out to be real handful. She's a head-turner, but she's also insufferably cynical and self-obsessed and her party girl habits lead to a complicated scenario that ultimately involves murder, phony religious cults, drug addiction and kidnapping. Throughout, Nash has to deal with the usual eccentrics found in any detective story of the era: incompetent cops, a kindly boss who is exasperated by his star detective's independent streak, corrupt public officials and more red herrings than you would find in a fish factory. Within ten minutes, I found myself confused. By the one hour mark, I had given up in terms of trying to follow the plot and the character's motivations and just decided to sit back and enjoy the often impressive performances. These include Beatrice Straight as Gabrielle's mother, Hector Elizondo as a small time sheriff who assists Nash and, most impressively, Jason Miller, playing against type as a dandy writer in the Truman Capote mold (though he favors the opposite sex.) The best performance comes from Nancy Addison in the challenging role of Gabrielle. Addison successfully conveys the wide range of emotion the character has to display over the film's five hour running time. There are also welcome appearances by Jean Simmons, Paul Stewart, Roland Winters and New York's favorite raconteur, Malachy McCourt.
The film has some riveting sequences such as Nash's investigation of a cult religious temple where a human sacrifice is being planned and his subsequent drugging by hallucinogen-causing gasses. The Long Island locations are also pleasing to the eye and Charles Gross's period jazz score is admirable. However, the screenplay drags on for far too long, testing one's ability to follow the nature of pivotal relationships and motivations. By the time the movie grinds to what should be a compelling courtroom climax, the revelations aren't shocking because you can barely understand their implications- and there is little that director E.W. Swackhamer (we love that name!) can do to sew these disparate elements into something comprehensible.
The Scorpion DVD package features the cool original promotional art on the sleeve and also includes trailers for other Scorpion releases including Coburn's "The Internecine Project", Burt Lancaster in "Go Tell the Spartans" and an unusual trailer for "Saint Jack" hosted by director Peter Bogdanovich.
(The following review
pertains to the UK release of the film on Region B/2 formats)
By Howard Hughes
The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo
on from its release of ‘Lady Snowblood’ and ‘Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of
Vengeance’ in 2012, UK company Arrow
Films has released another Japanese cult classic in ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’, a
film which mixes swordplay, horror and the supernatural into a bloody vengeance
known as ‘Kaidan nobori ryû’, ‘The Tattooed Swordswoman’ and ‘Black Cat’s
Revenge’, this is unusual action fare from director Teruo Ishii. Meiko Kaji,
who went on to star as Lady Snowblood, cuts her teeth – and several villains’
major arteries – as Akemi, the head of the Tachibana Clan. In the opening rain
swept swordfight, she accidentally blind’s Aiko (Hoki Tokuda), the younger
sister of Yakuza clan leader Boss Goda. After a three-year stretch in prison,
Akemi returns to her role as Tachibana leader, but fears she’s been cursed by a
black cat – the animal licked the bloody eyes of blinded Aiko as she lay in
agony. Upon their release from prison, Akemi’s five cellmates join her clan –
having acquired dragon’s tail tattoos to match their leader’s. The arrival of a
blind swordswoman at a rival clan results in the Tachibana gang girls suddenly
developing a high mortality rate. The murdered corpses of Akemi’s cellmates are
found, one by one, with the dragon tattoos gruesomely sliced from their back.
It a plot twist that surprises no one, the blind stranger is revealed to be Aiko
Goda, back to take revenge on Akemi. Following a violent, score-settling
encounter between the rival clans, a sword-swishing showdown of bloody
violence, the final duel between Akemi and Aiko is artfully lit against a
maelstrom swirl of night sky.
Woman’s Curse’ packs an awful lot into its 81 minutes and despite erratic
plotting is never dull. The cast is a gallery of grotesques and stock genre
characters. Beautiful Kaji is perfect as Akemi, though she’s underused here
compared to the ‘Lady Snowblood’ movies, which showcase her charisma and sword
fighting talent much better. Tatsumi Hijikata played the scarily strange
hunchback Ushimatsu, who behaves like a cat and is an unsettling presence
throughout. Makoto Satô was heroic Tani, Yôko Takagi (in her film debut) was
his lover Chie Mitsui – who are tortured by being thrown down a well – and
Yoshi Katô played Chie’s father Jutaro, who is beheaded but returns as a reanimated
deadman brought back to life by the hunchback. The warring gangs scenario
recalls Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ (1961), but Ishii populates his underworld
with Yakuza gangsters with questionable personal hygiene, cocky gang bosses, assassins,
traitors and human scum. The story also veers off into weird moments of
suspense and horror, with bizarro theatre presentations, nightmarish allusions
to cannibalism, references to the opium trade, drug-hooked pleasure girls,
torture sequences and shades of Peckinpah and Poe.
of the costumes are fairly out there – check out one gangster’s bowler hat and red
loincloth combo – while the fight choreography by Masatoshi Takase is riveting.
Despite ‘Blind Woman’s Curse’s visual splendour and cult movie oddness, I’ve a
nagging feeling that the rest of the film never quite matches its magnificent title
sequence, as Akemi and her five henchmen fight the Godo clan, in muddy, rain-drenched
slow-motion. Each of the Tachibana fighters has part of a dragon tattooed
across their backs, with Akemi as the head, her men as the tail. The eerily melodic
music of Hajime Kaburagi plays delicately against the balletic bloodletting,
and the cat’s ocular blood-feast is an unsettling climax to the scene.
summary: Swift swordplay, much blood. Highly recommended.
·New high definition
digital transfer of the film prepared by Nikkatsu Studios
·Presented in High
Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD
·Uncompressed mono PCM
·Newly translated English
·Audio commentary by
Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp, author of ‘Behind the Pink Curtain’
·The Original Trailer
(which includes alternate takes from shots used in the film)
·Trailers for four of the
films in the Meiko Kaji-starring ‘Stray Cat Rock’ series, made at Nikkatsu:
‘Wild Jumbo’, ‘Sex Hunter’, ‘Machine Animal’ and ‘Beat ‘71’.
featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
featuring new writing on the film by Japanese cinema expert Tom Mes,
illustrated with original archive stills.
The Blu-ray/DVD edition of ‘Blind Woman’s
Curse’ is available now, in Region B/2 format, rated certificate 15.